Is This the Year?
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - Even if you are only a casual fan of the sport of ice hockey, you likely enjoy their recent advertising theme, "Is This the Year", featuring several NHL stars, including Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vinny Lecavalier, reciting a handful of seemingly insurmountable records and asking if this is the year they will be broken.
The Clearwater's citizens and visitors now have their own version of Is This the Year following last week's City Council discussion of building a beach parking garage, a debate that sounds more like a broken record each time it is renewed.
This time, the discussion was initiated by Councilmember Paul Gibson, a relative Council newcomer who is taking his first face-off on the parking garage issue. "This is the eleventh year that the City Council has been talking about a parking garage on the beach," Gibson observed.
He reviewed two alternative garage sites on South Beach, and dismissed a land assembly scenario on Coronado Drive as "almost impossible." Gibson argued for building a garage over the city-owned surface lot next to the former Adams Mark hotel, a site that was rejected by former Councils because they didn't want a garage on the white sand.
"I think Mr. Little said it well," Gibson said referring to comments made by David Little, who chaired the Beach Chamber of Commerce parking task force, "We have this multi-million dollar, tens of millions of dollars, over 100 million dollars of investment, all with the idea that we're going to bring people to the beach. Now these people coming to the beach have nowhere to put their cars. We've created a monster here."
"I don't think that we can any longer just say that the next City Council will take care of it," Gibson said
"It's not a matter of putting it to the next City Council," replied Mayor Frank Hibbard, "To me, it's not a matter of do we need a parking garage, nobody can debate that point. The question is where should the parking garage go."
Hibbard explained that he used to favor the Adams Mark site because the city owned the land and that it was sufficiently far from the roundabout to not cause gridlock on beach roadways. But Hibbard has changed his mind; "I don't think we ought to put a parking garage on the sand," he said, "that's land we can never replace."
"I think we should take advantage of this down real estate market and buy land between Hamden and Coronado," Hibbard said, "the problem is the city is really not great at buying land."
Gibson offered a compromise, eliminating the Pier 60 lot and turning it into "green space" even larger than the area currently occupied by the Adams Mark surface lot. "What would we end up with? More useable beach if we tore out that ugly parking lot at Pier 60," he said.
Councilmember George Cretekos offered his own compromise, suggesting building a parking deck over the Pier 60 lot and a lower garage over the Adams Mark lot.
Councilmember Carlen Petersen was having nothing to do with either idea, saying, "You're talking about going vertical on the beach, and I will not support that." Petersen said that her first choice for a garage location is on Coronado, with the Marina as her "next best bet."
"The issues are, and always have been, cost, convenience, aesthetics, safety and movement of traffic," said Councilmember John Doran. He explained the reason for past Council inaction was cost. "I would prefer to see the beachfront beachfront," Doran said, "And so I would prefer that we be able to assemble property off the beach and build the garage, and would be willing to dedicate the money to do that."
But Doran acknowledged the difficulty of assembling land on Coronado, and said, "That puts us back in the business of having to build it on our own property." He was hopeful that the Marina location could provide a part of the beach parking needs, but Doran stopped short of throwing his support to that Adams Mark site if the land could not be assembled elsewhere.
Hibbard suggested hiring a commercial realtor to attempt a consolidation of land between Coronado and Hamden for a garage site. "My personal belief is that the real estate market is going to get desperately worse than it is even today," he said, hopeful that the city could acquire the necessary land at a reasonable price. His Council colleagues supported the idea.
So the 2008 beach parking garage debate has begun with the council agreeing to explore hiring an outside real estate professional to consolidate properties. Is this the year that the council will actually build it? Or will there be yet another broken record debate about the garage location, complete with the shedding of tears about the high cost of acquiring the necessary land.
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