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Clearwater may steer toward more costly marina overhaul

Veronica Brezina



The highlighted site of the Marina Walk project. All images: City of Clearwater and Moffatt and Nichol.

The Clearwater marina, home to fishing charters and dinner cruises since the early 1950s, is expected to see a major overhaul that would replace the aging infrastructure and activate the walkway. 

During a Monday city work session, Moffatt and Nichol Inc., which the city hired last year to redesign the marina, presented how they would embark on the improvements needed to establish “Marina Walk” with better capacity for boaters and create a promenade along the waterfront. However, the city has a tight budget of $19 million for the project; by Moffatt and Nichol’s estimates, it would cost at least $25.5 to deliver the vision. 

The higher cost for the ambitious plan would result in the city digging into its pockets, or the city may opt to not fully reinvent the marina by cutting back certain features or phasing it – potentially disrupting the current tenants. Although, by not acting on the more costly route for the full vision, the city may ultimately lose revenue from tenants and still be responsible for picking up the tab on repairs. 

The existing marina has 165 slips for recreational, commercial and transient users; however, there is demand for larger ships, which would generate more revenue for the city, and the slip widths currently limit vessel sizes. 

The infrastructure is long overdue for improvements as is the seawall, which is not included in the budget and gives an additional $3 million bump to the price tag. 

“We had problems with our downtown marina after the fact it’s been mis-designed [sic], and we are going to pay dearly for that. We are not going to make that mistake again,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said during the meeting, asking if Moffatt and Nichol are knowledgeable about those issues.  

“I don’t think we should dumb this project down. If we do, we will regret it down the road. We will fix things; it will be more expensive to do in the future. I think you do it right the first time,” he said.

Councilmember David Allbritton echoed Hibbard’s comments. 

Nicole Pauly, a marine structural engineer with Moffatt and Nichol, said the plan calls for replacing the timber docks with floating docks, expanding the marina farther to the south to balance the recreational and commercial vessel usage, and moving the ticketing offices to the upland. It would also replace the sidewalk to reduce congestion along Coronado Drive. 

The main promenade area with shading, ticketing and seating.  

The promenade along the waterfront would have a “plaza-type feel that would be appreciated by the community,” she said. Shaded seating and art installations would be featured on the walkway where people would gather to watch fisherman prepare their fresh catches. 

The east promenade area where public art would be featured. 

The project would also result in the removal of 40 parking spaces, which Pauly acknowledged would impact the already restricted parking in the area. The group would look towards developing a parking garage. 

“The challenge is we have a 30- to a 50-year-old marina that has not been kept up. We also have issues where we’ve allowed certain uses over the years that the county would never support nor allow going forward such as putting ticketing kiosks over water,” Clearwater City Manager Jon Jennings said. “The challenge is that we could do a half-baked approach, but we are going to be back at this within the next 10 years or, we can take a look at the addition of a parking structure and focus on a public-private partnership (P3) and negotiating a much better deal than we did for the North Beach Parking Garage.”

Jennings said it’s essential to have the city council’s approval prior to moving forward on any agreement, and the Monday discussion was initiated to get the ball rolling on providing direction for the project team. 

More details on the three cost-cutting alternatives: 

  • Alternative one: “Skinny-off” allowances for lighting and landscaping, remove the fuel office and reduce the footprint of fuel docks and other aspects, cutting out $3.5 million and keeping the main features. Pauly described this alterative as “a little cheap but functional.” 
  • Alternative two: Shifting the west half of the marina redevelopment to a future phase, leaving the existing commercial docks and associated utilities in place until the future phase commences. This could reduce the costs to $19 million and not lose any slips, but this alternative, viewed as a temporary solution, would leave much of the aging infrastructure in place. 
  • Alternative three: This alternative entails losing 26 slips. This will allow the project costs to drop to $19 million but would result in less infrastructure in place, and also cause the city to lose revenue from those slips. There was also a hybrid model, but Moffatt and Nichol said it exceeds the budget and is not feasible. 

“We have to have a definitive commitment to move it forward. We can’t pump the brakes after I’ve [given notice to] my tenants and they start vacating slips. The supply of wet slips is so limited; they need able lead time to make those moves,” said Eric Gandy, head of the marine and aviation department.

“We have to replace this marina, there’s no question about that.” 

The item is not on the city’s Thursday consent agenda for approval, but it will likely surface in the near future. 

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