The rules for the 2001 Beach by Design were written to encourage beach redevelopment, to increase the flow of tourist dollars and to put Clearwater Beach on a par with Sarasota, Naples and other upscale and financially successful resort communities. The design placed restrictions to guard against building projects that would be displeasing to the public for their impact and blocking the view of the waterfront, but the plan also provided lucrative incentives to future developers.
Nearly four years have passed, and the public is still waiting for the grand hotels filled with boutiques, cafes and tourists. But, the condominium developers did not wait. With architectural renderings in hand, they approached city boards, staff and council to request the rules be changed to accommodate them. Building heights went from 100 feet to 150 feet even though the heights exceeded the limits of Fire Department equipment. Properties were purchased by Mike Cheezem and David Mack, and immense structures rose along the waterfronts on each side of north Mandalay Avenue while Roland Rogers covered the south end of the beach with townhouses and more condominiums.
Beach Walk, a beachfront promenade that will transform south Gulfview Boulevard into a meandering sidewalk for pedestrians, skaters and bikers, has become newsworthy again. Beach Walk is a key part of Beach by Design and a direct link to the plans of developer Brian Taub for a proposed Hyatt hotel towering 150 feet above the promenade. Luxury condominiums will top the resort. Taub's firm will own the $90-million project, and Hyatt will manage the hotel. The current agreement between the city and the developer includes the lavishly landscaped Beach Walk and the construction of a pedestrian overpass to link the hotel to the beach, for which the city is required to reimburse the resort. The city staff and council have endorsed the project as the catalyst that will rejuvenate the aging beach community.
Although parking on the beach has always been a problem, the Beach Walk will eliminate 376 city parking spaces between Gulfview and the beach. To compensate the city for this incentive, the Hyatt will include 400 public parking spaces, but the resort will collect the fees creating a loss in revenue to the city of approximately $730,000 a year. The city estimates that the property will bring in $335,000 in taxes per year, so the deficit will have to be made up by either increasing parking rates or cutting public services.
With the elimination of Gulfview Boulevard, Coronado Drive would be widened to become a major beach road with three lanes and 10-foot sidewalks. This alteration would eradicate on street parking for small motels. At present, the city contends that most of the existing spaces are in the city's right of way and, therefore, does not have a plan for restoring perpendicular parking on Coronado. Motel owners are concerned the lack of parking would destroy their businesses.
Congress recently passed a $388-million appropriations bill with $4.35-million earmarked for Beach Walk roadway improvements and bike trails. The federal grants will eliminate the need for interfund loans, which were expected to defray the cost of the $15-million dollar project. Ground breaking is scheduled for April 2005 and construction will be completed in 31/2 years. The members of the Community Development Board, the city staff, the city council and the developers are elated that their dream is becoming a reality. But, the motel owners, who risk losing their businesses, and the citizens of Clearwater, who will face a concrete wall along their waterfront, see the reality and are skeptical of the dream.
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