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Voters likely to decide the future of Clearwater bluffs

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering from The Bluffs group of the buildings it's proposing to build at the Clearwater sites. Image: The Bluffs/ City of Clearwater.

Clearwater residents will likely determine the fate of the $400 million proposed redevelopment plans of turning two underutilized waterfront properties into mixed-use destinations with residential towers and retail. 

On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council agreed on moving forward with entering a development agreement with Gotham Property Acquisitions and The DeNunzio Group to redevelop the former 2.6-acre City Hall and the 1.43-acre Harborview sites, known as the Bluffs. The properties would connect to the new $84 million amphitheater and reimagined Coachman Park. As it’s city-owned property, a referendum question would be added on the November ballot.

However, a second reading is needed and will be heard on Aug. 4 for the agreement.

“This will break the 47-year curse Scientology has put on our downtown,” Councilmember Mark Bunker said. 

In mid-June, the city council unanimously selected to work with the Gotham and The DeNunzio Group after reviewing their proposal among other proposals submitted by two additional development teams. 

The team is proposing to transform the Harborview site into a 13-story, 158-unit hotel with 9,000 square feet of retail space, a 12,000-square-foot building for commercial space and a 169-space underground parking garage. The former City Hall site would then would feature two 27-story towers with 500 to 600 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial uses. 

A representative of the development team said the group is proposing to build the two twin residential towers at the former City Hall site rather than one “bulky mass” tower and described how the oak trees at the site would be preserved, along with the creation of a pocket park and plaza. 

Gotham and DeNunzio’s plan, referred to as The Bluffs, is offering to pay $15.4 million for City Hall and $9.3 million for the Harborview parcel. However, the developers’ plan calls for $25.5 million in incentives, including $22 million for two underground parking garages, $1.5 million from the Community Redevelopment Agency and to help cover the cost of a pedestrian bridge.

Councilmembers favored the underground parking structure as it wouldn’t cause an eyesore. or a barrier to the waterfront view. 

The ballot language council agreed to put before voters Nov. 8 reads:

Shall the Clearwater City Charter be amended to allow the City, instead of selling the vacant City Hall and a portion of the former Harborview sites to the highest bidder at a public auction, to sell the properties to Gotham Property Acquisitions and The DeNunzio Group; who will create approximately 600 apartments and 158-key hotel, retail, entertainment, restaurants and cultural uses available to all Clearwater residents, as further described and limited by City Ordinance 9597-22?

If the referendum passes on the Nov. 8 ballot, the sale would close no later than Dec. 31, 2024, according to the development agreement.

Per the development agreement, the developers would lock into a 30-year-long agreement, meaning the land and use would not change if the structures were to be later sold to another group. There are also provisions in the development agreement, such as limiting the use of amplified music, prohibiting self-storage facilities and requiring the building to attain LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Silver certification. 

The entire development is expected to be completed by 2028.

“We’ve watched these sites be underutilized for decades,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said during the meeting, stating this would be “a place where you want to go, gather and enjoy.” 

He recalled a referendum for the sites that first surfaced in 2000, which ultimately didn’t pass. 

“We lost two decades. I hope we don’t repeat that,” Hibbard said. 

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