The City of Clearwater is in the process of removing most of the parking for the public on Clearwater Beach. They call it "progress" as they clear the beach so visitors in the not-yet-built hotels may have an unobstructed view of the water. Meanwhile, in front of the waterfront Coachman Park, they want you to vote to build 129 to 141 boat slips, obstructing the public's open water view. Most of these slips will be 40 feet, or over, with rents of at least $600 a month. The city plans to float an $11 million bond to build the slips, a fishing pier, rest rooms, laundry facilities, a promenade and piers for temporary boat tie-ups.
At first the city's consultants said the cost to the public would be about $300,000 a year for 20 years. Now they say that the taxpayers will not have to help pay for the slips, they will make a profit.
Retired auditor and budget director, Arnie Shal, downloaded all 350 pages of the consultant's report and carefully reviewed it. We asked him to share his findings with us.
Question: Mr. Shal, how did the city go from a cost to the taxpayer's of $300,000 a year to making a profit on the boat slips?
Answer: First they raised the slip rate to $15.50 per foot. This, however, will not make the slips self-supporting unless there is 90 percent occupancy the first year and 100 percent occupancy from then on. Even so, they must include the artificial addition of $83,000 annually from the gasoline sales at the Beach Marina to break even. Any increase in construction costs must be kept to 7 percent.
Question: Considering that construction costs of Beach Walk have gone from $16 million to $30 million and costs of Cleveland Streetscape from $6 million to $8 million, is 7 percent a realistic figure?
Answer: I don't think so.
Question: And if costs go up more than 7 percent?
Answer: The Clearwater taxpayers will have to pick up the difference.
Question: What about safety?
Answer: Because of the vulnerability of this location, the consultants recommend wave attenuators. Waves from open water are dangerous in a storm, and the sea walls form a potentially destructive basin. We have wave attenuators, floating docks, and rip-rap against seawalls, and it is still engineered only to 92 miles per hour. I would never put a boat of mine there.
Question: The boat slips are close to the bridge. How about the Intracoastal Waterway channel?
Answer: The consultants note that the marina location is uncomfortably close to the Intracoastal. Their solution is to relocate the waterway to the west. Picture the complications with that? The city is silent on how it will solve this problem.
Question: The Mayor talks about activity at the waterfront revitalizing Downtown Clearwater. He mentions fishing, enjoying the view from the cement promenade, tying up boats and visiting downtown. We could do this without wet storage boat slips, couldn't we?
Answer: I cannot picture boat owners, coming and going to their boat slips, having any influence on Downtown Clearwater. In fact, the consultants state that the city should provide services, such as help with provisioning, transportation from the slips, and restaurant reservations.
Question: The city is claiming that no "local" tax money will be involved. Can this project be paid for with only the boat rents?
Answer: No! The city is assuming the $1 million contribution from Downtown's Community Redevelopment Agency and the Downtown Development Board is not tax money. They also ignore the $258,426 cost of the consultant's reports and the $62,000 cost of videos, mail outs and surveys, paid with tax money.
Question: Would you recommend voting in favor of this project?
Answer: Looking beyond the creative accounting provided to the city, I believe it is realistic to presume the marina will operate at a taxpayer-funded loss of at least $250,000 or more for 40 years. I do not believe the people of Clearwater should be asked to give up their open water view and an opportunity to have a real park on the waterfront, for the sake of approximately 129 wealthy boat owners.
Save The Bayfront, an organization that has long opposed commercializing Coachman Park, recommends that it should not be used for private boat slips or as an untidy venue for commercial concerts. They believe more people would visit Coachman Park if it were a place where they could gather for picnics, play, relaxation and recreation.