Vacant lots surrounding the Clearwater Marina may see a massive overhaul and become an integral part of a developer’s grand vision of establishing a new identity for the area.
Rodney Riley, Principal and CEO of RSR Capital Advisors, is in the process of buying 15 tracts in the Clearwater Marina area to develop what he is calling the Clearwater Marina District– a connected walkable community with modern offices, retail, luxury condos and a boutique hotel, as well as affordable housing.
“This is a significant undertaking, but my background is in creating master-planned communities, and the ability to create this in an underserved community in Clearwater is rare,” Riley told the St. Pete Catalyst. He is working with global architecture and planning firm Gensler to design, phase and sequence over $350 million worth of commercial development. Gensler has worked on numerous projects in the bay area, including First Central Tower in St. Petersburg, 400 Channelside in Water Street Tampa and Riverwalk Place in Tampa.
The opportunity Riley is pursuing to activate the 21 acres is similar to his project in Mesa, Arizona, where he acquired and developed nine properties.
“In both communities [comparing Mesa to Clearwater], there is a major presence of a church. In Mesa, it’s the Mormon Church that dominates the area and I was able to work in that environment. It’s important for me to communicate with the Scientologists in Clearwater and have that ability to work side-by-side,” Riley said, also noting he is now based in Clearwater.
The preliminary plans, which would need to be vetted by the community and local governing bodies, call for the rise of luxury condos close to the Dillion Clearwater Basin Marina with retail, office, a hotel, multifamily and workforce housing for sites further off the water.
RSR has reached agreements with multiple sellers to purchase the 15 aggregated parcels ranging in size from 0.3 to 3.5 acres, totaling 21 acres.
RSR plans to close on the first parcel this summer, and the company will be closing on the other parcels in the coming months, according to a press release.
The firm will also work with the Community Redevelopment Area agency in the North Greenwood area, located just east of the Clearwater Marina, to ensure the plans align with the CRA’s goals. It also intends to host a series of public engagement sessions.
Pending the needed approvals and finalized plans, the first expected development to emerge would be the luxury waterfront condos by the Seminole Boat Ramp.
RSR is in the stages of designing a site plan, which would be submitted for review. The construction drawings are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The site work is expected to take place in the next 30 days,with an anticipated opening by the end of 2023 or in the first quarter of 2024. The office building would also be part of the first phase.
Meanwhile, the heart of the newly defined community will be at the site of the Historic North Ward Elementary School, a city-owned property that has remained permanently closed.
RSR responded to the city’s request for proposals for the site and submitted a proposal to acquire the school with the promise of maintaining the brick buildings and converting them into 20 to 25 affordable housing units aimed at artists, accompanied by workspaces.
“We’ve seen how workspaces and affordable housing for artists have been a dire need in St. Petersburg. We want to work with Clearwater to create something to attract artists, provide that community connection and it will diversify the city,” Riley said, explaining he is trying to partner with a non-profit organization on the project.
There will also be affordable housing at another property tailored toward nurses, police and others who want to live and work in the same city.
Riley’s vision is coming off the heels of a renaissance in Clearwater with the redevelopment of Coachman Park, where a new amphitheater will be built, and the bluff properties becoming mixed-use destinations tying into the reimagined park.
“Imagine Clearwater is a significant milestone. Our projects may come online quicker, but it will be directly connected to what’s taking shape downtown and spur the continued growth,” Riley said.