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.