Clearwater officials have been dreaming for decades of how to best use their city’s pristine downtown bluff, and on Thursday the city council unanimously selected a development team’s $400 million plan to transform it with residential, commercial and hotel projects.
Now, city staff have less than three weeks to negotiate with the New York-based Gotham organization and Pinellas County’s DeNunzio group to create terms that can pass Clearwater voters’ scrutiny.
The council must approve a development deal on July 7 to meet the deadline to get the referendum question in the November ballot.
Council members agreed that the deal would include the sale to the developer of two bluff parcels: the now-demolished 1.4-acre Harborview Center site at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street and the 2.6 acre property half a block south with the old Town Hall.
Historically, Clearwater voters have been fiercely protective of the bluff. Mayor Frank Hibbard confirmed deed restrictions would be built into the deal specifically to allay long-standing fears that a developer would turn over the land to the Church of Scientology, the downtown core’s largest landowner.
The two sites surround the 22-acre waterfront, where the city is spending $84 million to renovate Coachman Park with an amphitheater, garden, walkway and boardwalk.
“I have children and grandchildren here in Clearwater, and I want them to be able to see again what Clearwater can be,” said council member David Allbritton. “When I was a kid it was a very, very busy place and it hasn’t been for a long time, and hopefully that will be the first stop.”
Gotham and DeNunzio’s plan, called The Bluffs, proposes paying $15.4 million for City Hall and $9.3 million for the Harborview plot.
For Harborview, the group launched a 13-story, 150-room hotel with 15,000 square feet of retail and dining space, a conference center, rooftop bar and pool, and 163 underground parking spaces. .
The plan includes two 27-story towers with 600 combined rental units for City Hall, with 25,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 600 underground parking spaces.
The residential project on the City Hall site could cost $325 million, with the Harborview Hotel costing $75 million expected to be covered by private financing, according to Gotham Vice President Matthew Picket. He said Gotham has secured $1.2 billion in debt and equity for projects in New York since 2019 and has a joint venture partnership with Goldman Sachs.
Picket said the Clearwater project would be built in two phases. The hotel and the first residential tower would start in 2024 and be completed two years later while the second tower would be completed in 2028.
The Bluffs didn’t specify the minimum incentives the team would need. The grant will be determined during development agreement negotiations on July 7.
Council members said they would have preferred to lease the Harborview site rather than sell it for fear voters would be willing to part with the land. But if the city offered to sell City Hall and lease the Harborview site, the shared deal would require two referendum questions, which the council said would create an overly complicated ballot.
A single referendum with a lease for both sites would be difficult because developers are less likely to secure funding for the City Hall residential project if they do not own the land, the city attorney said, David Margolis. A referendum question with a sale of both sites was the most feasible, they agreed.
Out of three proposals received, The Bluffs was the unanimous recommendation of City Manager Jon Jennings and a staff committee.
On Tuesday, council members heard from 20 supporters of another proposal, Elevate Clearwater, led by a large team that includes Tampa’s Channel District developer Ken Stoltenberg and Clearwater investor Daniels Ikajevs.
Elevate proposed a 200-room hotel for the Harborview site and 388 apartments and townhouses in a 24-story building for the City Hall site with retail, culinary incubator and grocery store.
Most board members agreed with staff that Elevate’s incentive application, which included a tax abatement and an interest-free loan, was too expensive and complex. They also preferred The Bluffs plan for the way the buildings fit in with the adjacent park and waterfront views.
Council member Lina Teixeira was the only one to prefer Elevate’s proposal, citing its offer of more parking spaces, a unique building for the residential site and a music-themed hotel. which could bring an identity to the city centre. Outnumbered, she said she wanted to pivot to show unity with the council ahead of the referendum, which others echoed.
“I hope everyone in this room, no matter what team you’re on, will support the referendum we have in November because if you really care about Clearwater, that’s the best thing to do.” , Hibbard said.