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City gives final approval on $84M Imagine Clearwater project

Veronica Brezina

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Imagine Clearwater rendering. All renderings: Stantec.

Following years of debate, the Clearwater City Council gave the final vote needed to break ground on the now $84 million development that reimagines the downtown waterfront park Imagine Clearwater. 

On Thursday evening, council members unanimously approved a $55.37 million contract with Skanska Inc. for the construction of Imagine Clearwater. The plan is to transform the urban Coachman Park into a 24-acre urban waterfront park development for recreation and entertainment uses that would help attract residents and tourists to an underutilized part of downtown. 

The vision includes an outdoor performance bandshell and stage with covered seating for 4,000 people, play areas for children, shading and solar panels. Over the years, city council members debated on specific amenities such as the exact style and seating for the bandshell and costs. 

The project was estimated to cost roughly $64 million as it started to emerge in 2016; however, the price tag for the entire project bumped up by $20 million due to material costs, added amenities and other factors. 

“This is the biggest ticket item the city has ever endeavored into, and I have every confidence in the world it’s going to turn out the way we want it to,” Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton said during the meeting. 

The city will have to fill a funding gap of $7 million for the project, but there are several pots of funding it can dip into such as bed taxes or state grants. 

“We have the money because we are cautious with the way we spend your tax dollars, for decades. We see opportunities occasionally and we make an investment,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said during the meeting. 

“I think we will get money from the state and the TDC [Tourist Development Council],” he said, adding how Clearwater is the biggest contributor of bed tax in Pinellas County. “This is a generational project … this is the next step and we should not compromise on the quality – that will be something we will regret.” 

The project could be a lynchpin, he said, to boost economic activity in the region – such as how the Beach Walk proved to be. The Beach Walk is a half-mile-long winding beachside promenade that travels along south Clearwater Beach north to Pier 60 Park. 

Policymakers looked at ways to cut back the cost of Imagine Clearwater, according to councilmember Mark Bunker, but soon realized the project might lose “the wow factor.”

Expected completion date is July 2023. 

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