Council at Impasse on Beach Garage Location
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - Monday's City Council worksession saw a renewal of the ongoing discussion of a beach parking garage. But for Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin's update on the status of the Britts and Istar locations, the result was a familiar one - the inability of three council members to agree on a site to build a garage.
Irwin reported that Britts had finally obtained a $10-million construction loan commitment, and had hired a new parking consultant who redesigned the garage and reduced its cost.
But while the loan commitment represented a step of progress with Britts, a new issue arose which could become a deal killer. Britts discovered that its planned use of the street level for 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space was in conflict with FEMA regulations.
In the absence of any mitigation of wind driven flooding waves from the Gulf of Mexico, Britts would be limited to retail concessions and a rolling food cart. "We will need a comprehensive retail operation and restaurant sitting on ground level same as we have now, a definition of storage or open space is too narrow for the retail magnitude we intend to develop on ground level," wrote Gilad Ovaknin, Controller of Britts/Surf Style, on April 17th.
Britts hired a coastal engineering firm to design a 6-foot high, 40-feet wide and 150-feet long sand dune on city-owned beach to block storm-driven waves and satisfy FEMA. But in addition to the uncertainty of obtaining FEMA and DEP approval of the dune, Irwin said that the petition would delay the potential garage by another 6 to 8 months.
In a memo to the City Council on Tuesday, Irwin outlined a set of conditions that Britts should be required to satisfy to earn the city's support for the dune application, including completion of an acceptable term sheet within 30 days and Britts bearing the estimated $60-thousand cost of dune construction. Should Britts not agree, Irwin wrote, "I believe we should discount their commitment to the project and not consider them further."
Irwin's update on the former Istar property at Fifth Street and Coronado was another chapter on the difficulty of forming a public/private partnership. The new owner of the parcel, Mainstream America, "is no longer interested in selling us the property as a stand-alone," said Irwin. Instead they were interested in a joint venture on the garage, with the city owning 300 spaces and Mainstream owning 200.
"The issue is going to be what is our purchase price and whether or not you're interested in a facility you cannot expand," Irwin told the Council. Acquisition cost for each of the 300 condo-style garage spaces was estimated at about $33,000, while the cost of garage construction on city-owned land would be in the range of $20,000 to $22,000 per space.
"This discussion has been going on for 25 years or longer," said Councilmember John Doran, "Both of these deals are complicated. Trying to evaluate both of them as they continue to move has surpassed my ability to be patient." Doran threw his support to the city-owned marina as a garage location, claiming that it could be bigger than either the Britts or Istar site, and that any traffic issues due to its proximity to the roundabout could be resolved by engineers.
"I'm looking for two people who would agree with me that it's time to just go ahead and direct the staff to pursue, without further delay, building a parking structure at the marina," Doran challenged his colleagues. "I will absolutely give you my support," said Councilmember Carlen Petersen, but a third supporter failed to materialize.
Mayor Frank Hibbard pointed out that the garage could not be built without affecting the current marina building, which has leases extending out two years. He continued his support for the Britts location despite having some concern about the dune that Britts would need for its retail and restaurant space. "All of the sites are imperfect," he said, "and to me right now, Britts is the least imperfect."
Vice mayor Paul Gibson and Councilmember George Cretekos championed building the garage on the site of a city-owned beachfront lot adjacent to the former Adams Mark Hotel property at the south end of Beach Walk. "If I have two votes for that, I'm ready to go," said Gibson. But Doran, Petersen and Hibbard were united in their opposition to using the beachfront for a parking structure.
Despite the lack of agreement among the elected officials, a vote will be taken during Thursday's Council meeting. A wild card might be played by Doran, who reminded his colleagues that he has supported 200 spaces each at the city-owned Rockaway lot on North Beach, Pier 60 and the "Adams Mark" lot, all three locations needing only a single deck over their existing surface parking to achieve that capacity.
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