Council not eager to move up facelift date for Coachman Park

— It may be at least five years before the city council seriously entertains plans for a facelift to the 20-acre Coachman Park, the city’s concert venue overlooking the Clearwater Harbor and Marina in downtown.
At Monday’s council work session, vice mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito asked if “phased” planning on the park’s redevelopment can begin sooner, so the “city does not wait until 2019 to start the process.”
The proposed Coachman Park redevelopment, a carryover from the city’s 2002 Master Plan for parks and recreation that ranks existing facilities and suggests improvements, is estimated to cost $5 million and is now proposed for penny funding in 2019-20.
City manager Bill Horne noted Coachman redevelopment has been put on hold a number of times in the past to consider funding for other critical projects, such as the downtown fire station and Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Redevelopment, Horne said, “must begin with a conceptual understanding of what you are trying to do, but nothing is laid out. People talked about expanded green space and concert area, but nothing is laid out other than we want to renovate.” He added every time the city staff tried to do something with the park, it “got pulled off for other things.”
Even if the city wanted to initiate planning earlier for the park’s redevelopment, there would not be enough funds available, advised city budget director Tina Wilson, unless city officials want to delay another major project.
“It would not be possible to begin the project earlier than 2017 or 2018,” Wilson said.
Mayor George N. Cretekos said, “There is no real plan that anyone has approved for Coachman Park.”
Based on issues the city and residents of St. Petersburg have endured in an attempt to redesign its pier, Cretekos said that the city is going to have to be very careful as to how it approaches and proceeds with the Coachman Park redevelopment.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton said he believes Coachman “needs to be redone. It needs to be a tremendous community gem for us. The last thing I want to do is piecemeal it.”
“There has to be a comprehensive redevelopment plan, clean the slate, and come up with a plan as to what it should look like and build it. It can’t be piecemeal,” said Hamilton.
Dipolito said she was only recommending a phased approach in an attempt to demonstrate to residents in the downtown core the city’s commitment to capital improvement in other areas than the beach.
In the last seven years, the city has spent nearly $40 million on a number of capital projects, including the downtown marina, the Capitol Theatre and streetscaping on Cleveland Street.
No action nor further discussion scheduled by the council to move up the date to renovate Coachman Park.
Since the 1990s, city leaders have been talking about redeveloping the city’s bayfront park with amenities including a new grass-terraced amphitheater, a ferry or water taxi service from downtown to the beach, a restaurant and parking garage.
In 2000 and again in 2004, voters rejected plans for a mixed-use redevelopment plan that would have allowed two Palm Beach developers to build a hotel, condos, retail shops and a movie theatre on 27 acres of the downtown bluff.
City voters narrowly approved a contentious referendum in 2007 that amended the city charter to allow a 129-slip public marina to be built at the eastern end of the Memorial Causeway, behind Coachman Park. It passed with 52 percent of the vote by 578 ballots.
And just last year, Winter the dolphin and her cohorts at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium won over a decisive majority of voters in a referendum to lease the City Hall property to build a $160-million downtown aquatic center.
The city council meets at 6 tonight in its chambers in city hall, 112 S. Osceola Ave. Citizens may address agenda items, or they may speak at the beginning of the meeting on issues not on the agenda.
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