Beach Garage Prospects Remain Uncertain
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - "What a difference a month makes," began Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin as he updated the City Council on the progress, or lack thereof, in finding a location for the beach parking garage that they seem determined to construct.
It was just a month ago that Irwin reported that the opportunity at the Britts/Surf Style site on Gulfview Blvd was becoming less promising because of Britts failure to obtain construction financing and their unwillingness to begin negotiating contract details in the face of that lack of financing.
While the Council last month directed Irwin to continue discussions with Britts, they told him to focus his energies on another property on Clearwater Beach, the former Lucca Development site on South Coronado that was recently acquired by iSTAR Financial in foreclosure proceedings. iSTAR had interest in selling the proposed garage site to the city, but was also in negotiations with private investors for the package sale of all three of the former Lucca parcels.
Since then, the iSTAR properties were acquired by an investor, Mainstream Partners VIII, a Miami-based Limited Liability Corporation. Irwin said that the new owner was looking at resurrecting the original Lucca development proposal, a plan Irwin described as "impractical if not impossible to do." "It does not appear that they're interested in just severing the [garage] parcel and selling it to us, as iSTAR was looking to do," Irwin reported.
But Irwin was not the bearer of only bad news on this day; he said, "On the Britts side, there's been some fairly significant progress."
Irwin said that Britts had met with a design/build garage contractor in an effort to "reduce costs and close the funding gap." He reported, "Apparently, that's been successful," and indicated that Britts was hoping to have a commitment from a lender this week.
"All we can do is see how this is going to play out for the next two or three weeks," Irwin said. "At that point if none of these are viable I think you have to look at what other options might be available or where you might want to go."
Vice Mayor George Cretekos was not shy about exploring another option he has favored in the past, a city-owned beach-front surface parking lot on South Gulfview Blvd. "How much would it cost for us to put a parking garage on the Adams Mark parking lot site," he asked. Irwin answered, "About $22,000 a space exclusive of land." This compares favorably with estimates of $34,000 per space at the Britts site, or $40,000 per space at former iSTAR site, both of which include land acquisition costs.
Cretekos also asked how long it would take to build a garage at the Adams Mark lot. "Certainly on city-owned property we could do a design/build in 12 to 18 months I think," answered City Engineer Mike Quillen.
"You can put it up for a vote on Thursday," joked Mayor Frank Hibbard. He and Councilmembers John Doran and Carlen Petersen have strongly objected to building a beach-front garage in the past.
Doran, long a supporter of building a garage on the Municipal Marina property, pointed out that the cost comparisons would be the same for that site. Doran later said, "If these other two things don't work out in the very near future, I will probably actively campaign to get just a parking garage at the Marina - Get it designed; get it built."
Clearwater is no closer now to building a beach parking garage than it was in September of 2008, when the City Council was to have made a final decision on its location.
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