CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council again turned its attention to parking on Clearwater Beach during their work session on April 18. As reported in the Gazette on April 7, an agreement between the City and Louis Anastasopoulos for the construction of a parking garage at Pelican Walk was terminated at the end of March, freeing $1.4 million of City funds that had been dedicated to the project.
Mayor Frank Hibbard introduced the discussion by recalling "there were promises made to the citizens the when the bridge was complete that we would have additional parking; that will not come to fruition." Not only will there be no additional parking available when the bridge is projected to open, but, as reported in the Gazette's February 10 edition, the Beach Walk project is expected to remove over 500 parking spaces during the construction that will commence this summer.
Recognizing the high cost of beach property, Hibbard said that he thought that the City's only alternative was to build a garage on City-owned land. He then explained his vision for a garage at Rockaway, incorporating a permanent home for the beach branch of the library, and possibly the Clearwater Beach Fire Station and street-level retail stores. Hibbard also wants to preserve some of the green space of Mandalay Park adjacent to the garage.
Councilmember Hamilton agreed with the Rockaway site for a garage, saying, "We clearly have to be building public parking on land we already own because it's totally impossible to buy dirt out there and make parking garages work (financially)." But Hamilton disagreed with Hibbard about preserving green space; "Out on the beach, parkland is what's white; it's not green, it's not grass, it's sand." He supported the site as a permanent home of the beach library, and suggested including public restroom facilities in the garage.
Councilmember Petersen said that parking is the best use of the Rockaway site and also supported it as a library location. She disagreed with Hamilton, however, about green space; "I agree the beach is the primary reason people go out there," she said, "but I hate to get rid of all of our green on the beach too."
Vice Mayor Jonson took a cautious approach. He liked certain elements of Hibbard's proposal, but said, "Let's look at some options and not really jump to say lets do this today." He wants to hear what the public has to say, and also wants the Council to consider some form of alternative transportation to the beach that makes use of downtown parking that is largely vacant on weekends.
Whatever decision the Council makes will have little impact on the imminent loss of parking on south Clearwater Beach; time and money serve to limit the City's responsiveness to that issue. Public Works Administrator Mahshid Arasteh said that garage design would take 6 months and construction 9 months to a year, and projected that the proposed garage/fire station/library branch could be completed in 2007. Financing is also a concern; Assistant City Manager said that the money necessary to build the garage does not now exist. In addition to the $1.4 million that had been reserved for the Pelican Walk Garage, the City's parking fund has a balance of about $3 million that could be used for the project.
Arasteh was charged with conducting a feasibility study of the Rockaway garage site. No date was identified for completion of the study.
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