Getting Serious About A South Beach Parking Garage
By Anne McKay Garris
Almost everyone agrees we need a parking garage on Clearwater Beach, with the possible exception of the old-timer who says, "If Disney owned Clearwater Beach there would be no parking garages on the Beach. They would put the parking garage at Jack Russell Stadium in North Greenwood. People would use a monorail to get to the Beach. And people would use it. They're willing to go to any lengths to enjoy a real treasure like Clearwater Beach".
Nevertheless, On Thursday, August 21, at the City Council meeting, Mark Searcy, a realtor who has been charged with the task of putting together at least an acre of land on the South Beach adequate for a parking garage, will report on the result of his efforts. The catch is, by City Council decree, the property must cost no more than $5 million an acre.
"Not an easy task," according to Searcy. Nevertheless, he reports that, on August 21, he will bring to the City Council two parcels located south of the Roundabout and not "beach front." Both are priced at $5 million an acre. One is available now and the other six months from now. "And I may possibly have a third parcel put together before the work session," adds Searcy.
A long term resident of Clearwater Beach, Searcy thinks it is important for us to move forward with a parking garage in the near future. "Beach By Design," he pointed out, "calls for a parking structure to be among the first amenities provided on the Beach. The worst thing would be for us to look back, a few years down the road, and wish we had put up a parking garage in 2008."
According to a spokesperson for the city Finance Department, there is a $6 million fund set aside to purchase property for a parking garage. $2 million is from the city's Parking Fund, $2 million is from the Central Insurance Fund and $2 million from the General Fund.
Up until now, City Council members have seemed to prefer to economize by building the parking garage on a city-owned site. These would include the Clearwater Marina, the Pier Sixty Parking Lot, or the south end of the South Beach Parking Lot. Each time one of these sites are mentioned, however, there is vigorous protest because all of these sites are waterfront and provide some of the few open views of the Gulf left on the South Beach.
Sheila Cole, spokesman for the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, says the Chamber is looking forward to a parking garage on the South Beach. "Beach Walk has brought us more tourists than we expected," she reports. "And in order for our tourists and our residents to enjoy our beautiful new amenities we must have parking."
She adds, however, "If the city-owned marina is to be seriously considered as a parking garage site, we believe an extensive feasibility and impact study should be done to determine how this location would impact the residents of the Beach and the safety of pedestrians. We should also know the possible cost of roadway changes that would need to be made to make it work. That could conceivably be more than the $5 million cost of land for another location. And what would a four or five story parking garage in place of the marina do to the vista?" she added. "Vista is important!"
A spokesman for the city's Engineering Department echoes Cole's concern. "We are having an in-house conference before the August 21 meeting," he said, "to get some preliminary idea of what adequate ingress and egress to a parking garage on the marina site would require, and how it might affect use of the Roundabout."
Comments from members of the City Council in recent months would seem to indicate that they would prefer not to put a parking garage on the waterfront, city-owned land and, if they can purchase property for the decreed $5 million an acre, they would like to do so. Councilman Paul Gibson has made it clear he does not want it at the Marina site, but Mayor Frank Hibbard seems to favor the Marina site, if the purchase of another site falls through. Councilman George Cretekos has suggested a parking deck at the Pier 60 lot.
Various leaders of the Clearwater Beach Community have expressed special concern about the Marina site being used for a parking garage. Among these are the possible traffic gridlock on the Roundabout, concern that the site might not have the width for adequate movement and concern that it won't help the South Beach businesses that are currently struggling to survive.
People who are interested in tourism believe that a parking garage at the entrance to the Beach would destroy the esthetics of the entrance. Others are unhappy at losing our Beach Post Office and other amenities now located in the Marina. Still others would like to keep the visibility of our unique fishing fleet at the Marina and the Marina building itself, one of the few landmarks left.
"Put it down there on Coronado behind one of those giant hotels," suggested one citizen. "You'll never notice a four to five story parking garage there like you would at the entrance."
As it is now, people enjoy the ambiance of the Marina. They stroll the docks, admiring the boats. They watch the fishing boats come in. They are fascinated by the close-up view of seabirds, waiting for a handout from the fish cleaners. They shop, mail packages, or grab a bite to eat. It is easy to see why so many residents and visitors hope the Council will find another solution to the parking garage challenge on August 21, and leave the Marina alone.
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