CLEARWATER - The Clearwater City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), took action on two high profile downtown projects on Tuesday, approving one and rejecting the other.
The Acqua project, whose design featured 245 residential condominiums, 43,000 square feet of retail, a 1,200-space parking garage and a 10-screen movie theater with a total of 2,000 seats, asked for $27-million from the CRA to subsidize construction of the theater and public parking elements of the facility. In addition, Acqua asked for a City guarantee of theater lease revenues totaling nearly $25-million.
Mark Rieker, President of Rieker & Associates, represented Acqua at the meeting. He blamed the City's downtown development code for some of the cost overruns. The facility's 1,200-space parking garage was an issue for Acqua; "The city wanted it to look like a building, not a garage," Rieker said. The special requirements of the proposed theater, including vibration and sound deadening, also drove up costs according to Rieker.
"We're not here asking the city to enhance our profitability, but to help overcome a shortfall," Rieker concluded.
But the City Council was not buying it. "It's been a long road, but one that I don't feel I can go any further on," said Mayor Frank Hibbard; "As it stands today, we just can't afford it."
Councilmember Carlen Petersen agreed, and even questioned the future of traditional movie theaters. "I can download movies to my IPOD," she said.
Elias Jafif, a principal in the Acqua project, offered the city a piece of advice should it persist with a downtown theater initiative. "The ideal site would cost 1/3," he said, explaining that a separate theater structure with grade-level parking would be far less costly to construct.
In a separate action, the Council approved a development agreement with OPUS South for the construction of the Water's Edge mixed-use facility adjacent to City Hall, a project whose construction is well underway.
OPUS sought a total of $1,035,000 in CRA funds, $500,000 for the cost of improving the public rights of way on Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street adjacent to the Water's Edge project, and a $535,000 reimbursement of impact fees.
Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin explained that Water's Edge is expected to generate a $9.4-million tax increment before the downtown CRA expires in 2019, and that OPUS' request amounts to a 1:9 subsidy ratio. "We think this is a reasonable and appropriate agreement," Irwin said. The agreement was approved unanimously by the City Council.
Bill West, the Water's Edge project manager for OPUS, said that the facility's first elevated floor will be constructed next week, and that the building should be "topped out" by June of 2007. West said that Water's Edge is scheduled for completion in mid-2008.
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