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Clearwater ‘flips the script’ on once blighted area

Mark Parker



Mayor Bruce Rector addresses attendees at a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for Clearwater Gardens. Images provided.

The former site of two crime-ridden hotels in Clearwater will soon become a vibrant affordable housing development with income limits as low as $20,000 annually.

City and Orlando-based Archway Partners officials gathered Thursday to celebrate construction commencing on Clearwater Gardens. The $31.77 million project will provide 81 affordable units at 1260 Cleveland Street.

The property is just over a mile from Coachman Park and once housed a notorious Economy Inn and dilapidated Royal Palm Motel. The city bought and demolished the buildings in 2011.

“It was really a problem for the community, a crime problem,” Mayor Bruce Rector told the Catalyst. “So, to just kind of flip the script on that particular parcel – to take it from a problem piece of land to one that we hope will be a spark for great things to happen – is just really exciting to us.”

The much-anticipated development’s 81 units are for those earning between 30% and 80% of the area median income.

The four-story building will feature 18 one and two-bedroom units for people earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI), or $20,100 annually. Another 20 are for those earning up to 60%, and the remaining 19 are at 80% AMI, or $53,500 for one person.

Those income restrictions will endure until at least 2075. While many people think affordable housing is strictly for those who rely on public assistance, Rector noted that is “not the case at all.”

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to recruit employees to provide services the citizens need,” he added. “And expecting them to drive from two hours away because that’s the closest affordable housing they can find.”

The city has an “older population,” which Rector said leads to outdated perceptions of affordable or attainable housing. Clearwater Gardens embodies a new era of subsidized developments. The apartments feature granite countertops and energy-efficient appliances and fixtures.

The building will provide a library, community room, fitness center, children’s game room, coworking space and a technology lab. Clearwater Gardens will receive National Green Building Standard certification once construction concludes in the fall of 2025.

Rector said “it doesn’t cost much” to launch a successful business from home, and the city hopes to foster entrepreneurialism. “We’d love to have the kind of communal feel where folks are sharing ideas and meeting at coffee shop … that’s the kind of collaboration that folks don’t get enough of today.”

“This project is not that far from the waterfront,” Rector added. “A younger professional on a bicycle can get down to the water easily from where they live. That kind of quality of life and vibrance – that’s what we’re really looking to create more of here.”

Chuck Lane, assistant director of economic development and housing, has worked on the project for years. Planning began in 2020, and Archway Partners eventually emerged from a competitive proposal process.

However, critical tax credits were initially elusive. Lane said the city, undeterred, extended its contract with Archway. The public-private partnership received $21.14 million from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation the following year.

Lane said it felt “fantastic” to break ground on the long-awaited development. He also noted that housing officials wanted to wait for a surrounding streetscape project to conclude before embarking on the housing component.

“It just makes a lot of sense,” Lane said. “And the streetscape is done; it looks absolutely beautiful. You put three years into a project like this, and you see it not only coming out of the ground but the quality of what you’re going to build – it’s phenomenal.”

After reducing the problematic hotels to rubble, the city dedicated a piece of the property to a community garden. Lane said they did so with the expectation that a development would eventually overtake the space.

City officials did not foresee the community garden’s success. The public-private partners designed the development to accommodate the garden, and Archway decided to expand upon the initiative.

“They’re going to have an urban garden for use by residents, so they’re taking that concept to a different level,” Lane said. “I’m really happy about that.”

From left: Vice Mayor David Allbritton, Mayor Bruce Rector, Councilmember Lina Teixeira and City Manager Jennifer Poirrier.

The Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency purchased the land for $1.35 million. It also provided a $3 million, 0% interest subordinate loan.

The city offered $610,000, and the Clearwater Housing Authority committed 20 housing vouchers for its clients. Rector said Raymond James, the project’s lender, “had the courage” to join the public-private partnership.

In a prepared statement, Archway president Brett Green credited the “collaborative effort” for seeing the Clearwater Gardens project to fruition. The affordable and workforce housing-focused firm is now a known local commodity.







1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Steven Brady

    June 21, 2024at4:45 pm

    $392,000 plus per unit?

    That’s affordable housing?

    Then there are the soft costs that didn’t make the budget. Twice as much perhaps? You know that the budget doesn’t include all the government expenses and time and costs associated with delivering housing… Something the government is not good at and probably shouldn’t be doing at all.

    In St. Petersburg, I read here that there was a proposal A project down there that Subsidized housing should be set aside for Government employees. Talk about a conflict of interest…

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