CLEARWATER - Clearwater's Mayor Frank Hibbard introduced Tuesday's Town Hall Meeting by calling the Cleveland Streetscape project a thread in the fabric of a better downtown. Attended by nearly 100 members of the public, the meeting was billed as a two-way communications medium, with the City providing project information to the public, and the public in turn providing guidance to the City on how to minimize disruption to downtown businesses.
Frank Bellomo described the streetscape that his firm, Bellomo Herbert and Company, designed. He told the audience to look from one side of the existing Cleveland Street to the other; "everything from face of building to face of building will come out and be reconstructed," he said. The purpose of the project, he said, was to make downtown a "go-to place" rather than a "go-through place", creating an environment where economic development can take place.
After a series of short presentations on the results of the City's downtown redevelopment efforts, the public was asked to identify issues with the project and to suggest solutions to those issues. Clustered in groups of four to eight with a City staff or Councilmember facilitator, they were given twenty minutes to formulate their ideas
Access to downtown businesses during construction, both by customers and delivery vehicles, was a frequently mentioned issue. Recommended solutions included cleaning up alley ways to provide better pedestrian access, and connecting the Drew Street extension to Pierce Street providing vehicles with a way to access both sides of the project during construction.
Public transportation was cited as a solution to many problems; suggestions included providing free trolley service within downtown, and providing free trolley or water taxi service between downtown and the beach.
Not surprisingly, parking was the number one issue. The concerns ranged from the reduced number of on-street spaces to the limited number of spaces close to the downtown core. The public's suggestions included increasing the number of on-street spaces by using angled parking, building a large parking garage and providing free parking downtown.
George Kelly, owner of the Downtown Newsstand, was among the more vocal participants, frequently drawing applause with his comments. Parking, or the lack thereof, was his primary concern. "The end product is not going to work," he said, "If you have minimal parking, you have minimal people."
Kelley drew a comparison to St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. "They are successful despite having no facade program. Why? There's plenty of parking," he said. Kelly was clearly a pessimist; "If they go ahead with this, most of the (downtown) businesses will die - then the landlords will have their backs against the wall," he cautioned.
Assistant Public Communications Director Joelle Castelli said that the City will consolidate the public's issues and proposed solutions, and communicate the results back to the participants. But she said, "Changing the Streetscape plan is not feasible right now."
Geri Campos, Clearwater's Economic Development Director, said that the project, for which $6.2 million has been earmarked, will be put out to bid next week. The RFP will include options to close Cleveland Street entirely or partially during construction, she said. The decision on full or partial closure will be made based on the cost difference between the alternatives and the support of Cleveland Street businesses according to Campos. Construction may begin as early as April of this year.
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