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Downtown On The Rise

Reports of downtown's death are greatly exaggerated. After half a century of stagnation, there are plenty of signs of life.

By Jack Mortimer, President, Downtown Neighborhood Association

Forty years ago, there was an article in a local Clearwater newspaper titled How to Revive Downtown. In other words, this is not a new problem. 

So who’s to blame? The answer is back in the 60’s. The main culprit was Sunshine Mall (it drew a remarkable 60,000 people to its opening), followed a few years later by Countryside Mall. And downtown was never the same.

Pointing fingers about downtown’s demise leads to nowhere. Let’s face it, downtown Clearwater has been in a sad state for decades. But things are finally changing. Today’s picture is one of progress, with the first significant advances in nearly 50 years.

Sure there is still a long way to go. Revival doesn’t happen overnight, and there have been some false starts over the years. But let’s give credit where credit is due.

Here are just a few of the signs that things are different this time around.

The now-completed streetscape project updates downtown considerably.

The marina brings elegance and flair to the waterfront.

The Capitol Theatre offers a wide variety of entertainment options and is undergoing a spectacular expansion and renovation.

The Dolphin Tale exhibit has been a big hit with visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, bringing even more people downtown.

Down the road, the Marine Aquarium intends to move its public shows and exhibits from Island Estates to downtown. Some are suggesting the current City Hall property.

The Harborview will eventually be torn down, improving the vista considerably. It’s easy to imagine what downtown will look like without its ‘Berlin Wall’.

And next up, Coachman Park – with our voting support – will be expanded to open up the waterfront and beautify downtown.

Clearwater’s largest building, the impressive Church facility on Fort Harrison, is nearly ready to open and will bring even more people downtown.

Water’s Edge is 95% sold and its home values have already risen significantly in the past two years, bucking national trends. Station Square is 70% sold.

Rumor has it that the owners of the AmSouth building plan to convert it to high-end residences are considering plans for developing the entire block along Osceola.

Tony’s Pizzeria and Ristorante is opening a Beer House right next door. The Chamber of Commerce and Blue Dahlia are moving in nearby. One by one, vacancies are turning into occupancies.

People are coming downtown in numbers not imagined just a few years ago. The most recent Blast Friday event drew what one longtime downtown supporter said was the biggest crowd yet; there was barely room to move. The Super Boat Championship and Sea Food Festival kept downtown hopping all weekend. The Box Car Rally a few days ago attracted numerous families.

So the signs are there. Downtown’s revival is well underway.

Several groups are doing everything they can to speed up the process: Downtown Development Board; Downtown Partnership; Downtown Merchants Association; and the newly formed Downtown Neighborhood Association. These groups need help and support, no matter how small.

It’s easy to be part of the solution. Consider doing something that helps the groups that are making a difference. But at the very least, come downtown to eat, shop and play.

It’s no surprise that other cities drool at the opportunities that Clearwater has in its grasp, particularly the good fortune of having undeveloped city-owned land on the waterfront with plenty of room for a beautiful park and amphitheater. Very, very few cities in the nation have such possibilities.

Downtown’s future looks bright! And this time it looks like it’s for real.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Travis Wilkinson October 13, 2012 at 05:02 PM
This has got to be the weakest, most ill-conceived, transparent attempt at damage control and propaganda I've ever seen. You'll have to do better then this Jack 'cause the public isn't buying it.
Sandy October 13, 2012 at 07:38 PM
While all you put in this article is true, I have a question: What's being down to get the Scientologists who own the buildings in downtown to rent to "non-church" members? I don't see anything glamorous about rude "church" members pushing in front of local residents as we attempt to walk to the marina and parks to enjoy them. Do YOU live in downtown Clearwater?
DeElizabethan October 13, 2012 at 08:34 PM
I have much more hope of people visiting the downtown area when the Clearwater Small Business Coalition have signs in front of their businesses stating they are not owned by $cientologists. That will help during and in between events and will encourage new customers who now do not want to support a cult. Thousands of people do not stay downtown to eat, shop or visit because of the atmosphere. The only people the new 'power' building will bring in is more of the same, who do not provide any substantial business to Clearwater, in fact they deflect it. One thing they are expert in is PR con for their own long range purpose of takeover. This trend can be reversed with the use of the Clearwater Small Business Coalition signs. http://www.clearwatersbc.org/
Sandy October 14, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Hmm, I just discovered a typo in my first comment..."down" should be "done". DeElizabethan, I agree with you!
Sandy October 14, 2012 at 03:10 AM
I hope the "Downtown Development Board" puts some pressure on the owner of the ghetto storefronts in the 600 block of Cleveland. If he can't fix them, maybe he should sell them to someone who has money to fix them and isn't involved in Scientology.
DeElizabethan October 14, 2012 at 06:57 AM
Right on Sandy. If the DDB can't bring about those changes then, why not? and then well, who can? The years are just flying by and the buildings are still stagnant.
Local October 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM
In what universe is Scientology's unfinished hideous hulk of a Super Power Building "impressive"?
Local October 23, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Also, please, what city is drooling at the opportunities in downtown Clearwater? What, to be a desolate ghost town of empty storefronts and soulless undead, save for a few nonScientologist survivors huddled together in Starbucks-turned-zombie-shelters for warmth and solace? Actually, look at Dunedin. Same opportunities Clearwater had. Essentially the same local. Same quality of beaches. Same general architecture and layout. The difference? They got Scots instead of Scilons. Look how well that worked out for them. If anything, WE should be jealous of THEM.
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