After multiple efforts to secure funds needed for Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s long sought-after Clearwater terminal project, the agency was finally able to secure $20 million – but the project now hinges on a new funding gap.
During a Clearwater work session meeting, the councilmembers unanimously voted to continue negotiations with PSTA for a land swap deal to build its new transit hub if it can obtain additional funding as the project estimation has bumped up from $35 million to $44.5 million.
The work session discussion comes on the heels of PSTA’s announcement last week that it was awarded a grant through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, and is planning to use the funds to build the new, innovative transit hub on city-owned land at the intersection of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue.
The hub would also replace PSTA’s station at Park Street, which PSTA has deemed unfunctional.
“The current Clearwater station is essentially obsolete. It’s 40 years old, it has a leaky roof and it is over-capacity, we are having to use side streets for pick up and drop offs and our newer hybrid and all-electric buses don’t fit under in the station. The proposed new state-of-the-art sustainable transit center will benefit the community, economy and our environment,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller said in a statement.
However, the site is the same that the City of Clearwater was eyeing for its new City Hall site and other potential developments as City Manager Jon Jennings suggested the possibility of creating new housing at the site.
“Pinellas County has never received a federal RAISE grant until now,” Clearwater councilman David Albritton said during the city’s Monday work session meeting, reminding the members this was PSTA’s fourth and only successful attempt at securing the funds for the project that first surfaced in 2010.
He recalled that last year, the council approved a resolution to swap the Myrtle Avenue site with PSTA’s site, which showed that “the city has skin in the game and effectively, clinched the grant.”
Miller echoed the same comments, stating how the specific site is tied to the grant, and the city should not deviate from its course as it could put the entire project at risk due to needed additional funding or entertaining other uses for the site.
“Now we have the opportunity with this $20 million and are able to get our transit center, the city can get its City Hall, and we will give you the Park Street site,” Miller said. “There really is no other site we can secure.”
The planned 16-bay facility would link riders to Pinellas County beaches and other destinations. The transit hub would also be outfitted with solar panels and electric bus-charging stations – meeting PSTA’s plans to have a fully electric fleet by 2050.
To date, PSTA has invested roughly $2 million into planning and design for the site, Miller said.
“It doesn’t make sense to exchange the property if we aren’t getting a depot built,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said.
However, Miller said, typically a federal grant recipient has only three years to utilize the grant. PSTA would have to secure the additional funding needed prior to the expiration of the federal grant.
“My fear is that would jeopardize the three-year timeline,” Miller said.
Despite the tight deadline, Miller said PSTA is confident it can fill the funding gap by reprioritizing its funding plans or secure county funding.
Following the work session, PSTA is scheduled to make a formal presentation to the city council Thursday.