Harborview Eyed for Redevelopment
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - It was only two weeks ago that Barry Strafacci, General manager of Harborview Center operations for Global Spectrum Corp., delivered an upbeat report on the facility's quest for profitability.
The City of Clearwater has for years subsidized what has been an unprofitable convention center operation at Harborview, but Stafacci described how rising revenues have reduced the city's annual contribution in 2006 and 2007 to $220,105 and $199,705 respectively. He also forecast further improvements, projecting reductions in the city's subsidy to $180-thousand in 2008 and $173-thousand in 2009, the final year of Global Spectrum's contract to operate the facility.
"It's a much better trend than we've seen in the past," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard in response to Strafacci's presentation on February 21st, "we're thrilled."
But the thrill was short-lived. During Monday's Council worksession, Hibbard and his colleagues gave their consent to a plan presented by Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin that may foretell the demise of the Harborview Center as it currently exists.
The redevelopment of the Harborview Center site was established as a priority by the City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), last year. A brochure that will soon be circulated to developers entitled Call for Ideas states, "Anticipating the need for substantial renovations to the aging Harborview Center structure and sensing that the current use is not the highest and best use of the site, the CRA desires to explore the market-based potential for alternative uses of the site."
Irwin outlined a timetable for Harborview's redevelopment during Monday's worksession. Following the release of the Call for Ideas, city staff will interview those who respond and report their findings to the City Council. The Council will be asked to establish a direction for the preferred redevelopment features during July 2008.
Irwin's process next includes opportunities for public input, first via small focus groups to refine the Council's direction, then holding one or more large public meetings to air the result.
An RFP would be issued in early 2009, and a developer selected in the spring of 2009.
But the most critical step of the process will be a referendum tentatively scheduled for May 2010, asking Clearwater's citizens to approve a change in use of the city-owned Harborview center property and to also approve the commercial use of land on the bluff below the 28-foot line that is currently protected by the city charter. The council gave their consent for including that sliver of land, currently used for parking, to "square-off" the Harborview parcel available for redevelopment.
Part of the Harborview Center property consists of what is now shared parking with the library, capacity that would likely disappear in any redevelopment scenario. Irwin said that there would be a shortfall of about 90 parking spaces for library users, and the council agreed that additional shared library parking should be part of any proposed redevelopment.
In addition to signaling their support of the plan on Monday, the council also agreed that leases with two of Harborview's current tenants, Stein Mart and Global Spectrum, should be extended until 2010; Pickles Plus current lease runs at least until then. The Council further directed staff that residential units were not wanted on the site, and that the Harborview land should be offered for long-term lease, not for sale.
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