After hearing support for two development groups that are vying to redevelop downtown waterfront sites, the Clearwater City Council has favored moving forward with The Bluffs’ proposal.
On Thursday evening, the council voted to begin negotiations and enter into an agreement with The Bluffs, one of three development teams that submitted proposals to acquire the former 2.6-acre City Hall and the 1.43-acre Harborview sites. The sites are known as the “bluff properties” that the city envisions could attract more people to downtown and also ink to the planned redeveloped waterfront park that a new amphitheater will anchor.
The Bluffs team is led by the New York-based Gotham Organization, which has developed over 40 million square feet of commercial and residential developments, and The DeNunzio Group, which is a locally based firm that has been involved in a handful of projects in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Others in the development team include Coastal Construction, Behar + Peteranecz Architecture and Stantec, which is currently working with the city on the $84 million Imagine Clearwater project.
The Bluffs’ proposal includes the development of a 13-story, 150-room hotel with 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space for the Harborview site. Meanwhile, the former City Hall site would have two 27-story towers with a combined total of 600 rental units.
Now that the city has selected the master developer, they must reach a development agreement by July 7 to make the deadline to get the referendum question on the November ballot – as the decision will ultimately be made by the citizens.
“Our talented team and local partners look forward to continuing to showcase the ways this project will innovate, celebrate Clearwater’s natural resources, and bring opportunity to our great city,” Matt Picket, project partner at Gotham, said in a written statement. “The people of Clearwater deserve smart, intelligent development in a city where they work, live and play for generations to come. We look forward to presenting this project to the community and ensuring an inclusive and transparent vision for passage in November.”
Key points in The Bluffs’ proposal:
- The 13-story hotel would have a boutique conference center, which could hold 1,000 people, a 2,000-square-foot performance center and a rooftop restaurant and beer garden.
- The Bluffs group’s introductory letter listed several restaurants and retail partners, including John and Trudy Cooper, Volet Hospitality Group and Sea Dog Brewing Co. During a previous presentation, the group also mentioned Green Bench Brewing as a tenant.
- There would be green open space retail corridors that will filter through the developments creating connectivity between the park and Osceola Avenue.
- The group said it sees Osceola Avenue as an important threshold to the park and the potential for streetscape improvements to create safer access and improved first impressions.
- At the Harborview site, where the residential towers would be built, there would a pedestrian bridge and improved access to the lower part through lawn terraces.
- The City Hall site will have publicly accessible spaces for outdoor dining and access to the park.
The Bluffs group is offering to buy the former City Hall site for $15.4 million and the Harborview Center for $9.3 million.
Although the group desires to purchase the Harborview site, a lease agreement is also on the table.
While the council selected Gotham and DeNunzio, it wasn’t without debate as a roomful of public speakers spoke in favor of the competing team Elevate Clearwater, which planned on building a music-themed hotel along with other mixed-use concepts. Public speakers said having such a hotel would differentiate Clearwater from its neighbors and help establish an identity.
“We have been fighting this horrible narrative, the narrative of being dead, a ghost town, the Church of Scientology mecca – these narratives have really impacted our ability to revitalize downtown and we have to acknowledge that,” councilmember Lina Teixeira said, who initially favored a proposal from Elevate Clearwater and later supported The Bluffs’ proposal in viewing the overall need for a long-awaited shift in downtown.
Councilmember Mark Bunker asked the attendees if the city selected The Bluffs’ proposal rather than Elevate’s proposal if they would still support the project – the crowd immediately replied in the negative.
“This has been decades the downtown has been a ghost town. This project [The Bluffs] can do it. I’m very passionate about Gotham’s proposal. I think it integrated beautifully with the park. I do believe 600 apartments are better than the smaller amount from Elevate,” councilmember Mark Bunker said in response.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said he physically has toured the Gotham West development in New York, a $520 million development that includes a school and food hall, and was impressed by what the developer had accomplished.
City Manager Jon Jennings also recommended the city move forward with The Bluffs’ proposal.