Council to Decide Beach Garage Site Tonight
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER – Following a decade of inaction, the Clearwater City Council have found themselves with not one, but five apparently credible options for constructing a much-needed parking garage on Clearwater Beach.
The decision on which site to pursue will not be an easy one.
The Council discussed the options during their worksession on Monday. In addition to the two assemblages of properties on Coronado Drive put together by real estate agent Mark Searcy, the Council evaluated the Surf Style/Britts location and a new proposal from iSTAR, the mortgage holder on beach properties owned by Lucca Development.
“There's too many moving parts,” said Councilmember Carlen Petersen after hearing the pros and cons of the several alternatives. Considerations include a garage's impact on vehicular traffic, ease of pedestrian access to the beach, limitations imposed by the city's development agreement with the under-construction Hyatt Aqualea, and each parcel's impact on garage design.
Oh yes, the Council also looked at estimates of the total cost of land acquisition and construction cost, which ranged from $12.9 to $16.6-million according to estimates provided by Finance Director Margie Simmons.
The candidates are:
Both Searcy assemblages were criticized because they lack easy pedestrian access to the beach and because vehicular traffic on Coronado, characterized by city Traffic Operations Manager Paul Bertels as the main corridor for traffic on South Beach, would be impacted by pedestrian crossings.
Although Searcy's 1-acre assemblage would cost $5.7-million, .7-million more than the Council's stated price limit, it would offer better efficiency than the .7-acre parcel, containing 272 parking spaces within four levels rather than five. The cost per garage space of the Searcy assemblages were estimated at $47.4-thousand and $48.25-thousand.
Britts/Surf Style proposed a joint effort with the city to build a 294-space garage on their South Gulfview property, and offered the city either condo-style ownership or a lease of those spaces. Councilmember John Doran and Mayor Frank Hibbard agreed that the lease option was too costly. The condo-ownership option was estimated at $56.47-thousand per space.
Despite its higher cost, the Britts/Surf Style alternative would provide better pedestrian access to the beach and has no pedestrian impact to vehicular traffic on Coronado. But their proposal asks the city to become the lender of funds for construction.
The Lucca property has just reentered the mix of properties being considered. Eliminated as a candidate earlier this year when the lender, iSTAR, began foreclosure action on the property, it has reemerged courtesy of a proposal by iSTAR to sell the parcels to the city for $4.9-million.
Located east of Coronado at Fifth Street, the Lucca location offers better pedestrian access than the Searcy assemblages. But the uncertainty of iSTAR's foreclosure proceedings could delay the purchase and garage construction indefinitely.
Hibbard summarized his view of the alternatives, saying, “To me, it looks like the Lucca property is the superior site east of Coronado, and the Britts site is the superior site but it's more costly.”
Councilmember George Cretekos' question underlined the impact of land price on the cost of any proposed garage; “How much cheaper would it be if we used the [city-owned] property at South Gulfview, the Adams Mark or Pier 60, for a parking garage?”
Finance Director Margie Simmons replied, “We could build two parking garages for the price of this if we're buying the land. We could put 300 spaces on one piece of property and 300 on the other that we own for the same cost.”
Barring any new surprises, the Council is expected to choose one of the sites tonight and ask staff to begin contract negotiations with the selected property owner.
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