CLEARWATER - The City Council approved a development agreement with Beachwalk Resort LLC during their December 2nd meeting, paving the way for the construction of a 250-room Hyatt resort that promises to remake Clearwater Beach into a destination resort.
The development agreement had been in place with the former owner of the property, Seashell Resort, for several years. But the property's new owner, Brian Taub, sought several amendments, most of which were to his advantage; they included:
The agreement's only give-back to the City was the relinquishment of the resorts right to rent beach chairs and umbrellas directly in front of the hotel, but that was conditional on the City's concessionaire maintaining certain Hyatt-defined quality standards.
Both Council members Hibbard and Hamilton had expressed concern during last week's Council work session with the rates that could be charged for the resorts 400 public parking spaces. In response, Taub came to Thursday's Council meeting with a last-minute amendment to the agreement's parking provisions; he said, "Members of Council have expressed concerns about two other issues, both dealing with parking. In an effort to address your concerns, we have amended that latest development agreement as follows," and proceeded to read the amended terms, which had never before been seen by Council members.
The first amendment permits the City to construct a parking garage with 300 or more spaces on the Marina property no sooner than 2 years after the issuance of the resort's Certificate of Occupancy. Earlier provisions prohibited the City from constructing such parking for a period of five years.
Vice Mayor Frank Hibbard had a hand in modifying the Marina parking clause; "I called Brian (Taub) myself about it," he said. Asked if he thought the City might be able to build a Marina parking garage in the foreseeable future, he said, "I don't know, but I want to keep our options open."
The amended agreement also added a new exhibit that documents comparable parking rates that could be charged for use of the resorts garage; the rates varied from $1 to $7 per hour, and from $6 to $20 per day. Taub explained that the comparable rates among the 10 cited Florida resorts averaged $2.30 hourly, and $12.30 daily, which were in line with a City staff recommendation for rates at any new City parking facility.
Despite Taub's portrayal of the amended concession and parking terms as compromises, Council member Hoyt Hamilton was unconvinced that those terms were in the best interest of the public. He said, "Exhibit L comes right out of the Hyatt operational handbook." Exhibit L describes Hyatt's requirements for beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as uniforms for the concession employees renting them. Hamilton added, "But this is not Hyatt's Beach, this is Clearwater Beach," and explained that allowing Hyatt's concession standards to be enforced would make that section of the beach appear "less than public."
Hamilton recalled days when beach parking was as little as five or ten cents per hour, and said, "I look at some of these parking rates and it just boggles the mind". He expressed concern that the Hyatt might manage parking rates for the benefit of resort operations rather than to satisfy the public need; "If I can fill 400 spaces at $1.50 per hour, but I only fill 200 of those spaces at $3 per hour, I'm still making the same revenue but I only have half as many people out on the beach intermingling with my hotel guests," he said, regretting that the agreement does not provide any City control of parking rates.
But his colleagues did not share Hamilton's concerns; the agreement was passed unanimously.
After the meeting, Hamilton said that he saw the developer's request for 24 additional density pool units as an opportunity to open discussion on some other areas of the agreement, but with the exception of Hibbard's concern with parking, his colleagues seemed satisfied with the staff-led negotiations. He said, "Clearwater Beach has not been a resort destination; it's been a vacation destination for families on a budget. I hope we're not discouraging middle class people from coming to South Beach."
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