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City approves bayfront development district

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Clearwater Cay Club will become a city within a city, governed by a Board of Supervisors that can issue bonds and levy fees for infrastructure upkeep.

By LESTER R. DAILEY Article published on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005

CLEARWATER – The City Council last week unanimously granted preliminary approval to Orlando developer Dave Clark’s request to double the size of his Clearwater Cay Club, from 24 acres to almost 50 acres, and turn it into Clearwater’s first community development district. That will, in effect, make Clearwater Cay a city within a city. A 1980 Florida law allows community development districts of up to 1,000 acres if they meet six specific criteria and the city in which they are located approves them. They then become a distinct governmental entity, governed by a 5-member Board of Supervisors originally appointed by the developer. They can issue bonds for infrastructure improvements, and levy assessments for debt service and infrastructure maintenance.

Clearwater Cay, located east of U.S. 19 and north of Belleair Road, where Allen’s Creek empties into Old Tampa Bay, consists of two upscale Mediterranean-style condominium complexes. The 339-unit Grand Venezia will be included in the district, but the 311-unit Grand Bellagio will not. “This is an ambitious project,” Clark said. “It will turn around the area where it’s located.” The run-down shopping center that formerly housed the Peddler’s Mall indoor flea market will be razed and replaced by restaurants, retail shops and possibly a hotel. Clark isn’t worried that U.S. 19 is slated to be elevated over the Belleair Road intersection because he isn’t creating a shopping center that depends on drive-by traffic. “We are trying to capture people for a long-term stay in the commercial corridor,” Clark explained. The district will own the roads, parking lots and other infrastructure and it will own the “water park” that will actually be a stormwater retention pond with a gondola ride concession. But it won’t own the hotel, shops and other businesses. “It can’t own a private for-profit (business),” explained Clark’s attorney, Thomas Cloud. “It’s a government.”

A water taxi will connect Clearwater Cay with the 4-acre marina at the nearby Cove Cay Golf and Country Club, which Clark hopes to lease and expand. Club president Bill Torrey feels the arrangement will be a financial boon for his club, which has lost half its membership in the past several years. “I think it (Clearwater Cay) will improve the site and be a good thing for the community,” said John Sinclair, who is buying a condo unit there. But not everyone is convinced.

Some Bellagio residents fear that the district won’t live up to its obligation to pay half the cost of maintaining the Clearwater Cay entryway and gatehouse, which are outside the district, with Bellagio paying the other half. “We purchased there because we wanted a residential community,” said Bellagio resident Bruce Robbins. “That’s what was offered to us and that’s what we bought into.” But he added that Clark is changing the nature of the community by turning it into condo hotels where absentee owners buy units to rent to tourists as an investment. Noting that “the risk to the city seems to be negligible,” Mayor Frank Hibbard joined his colleagues in voting for the district. “There really are a lot of potential positives to this from a city perspective,” City Manager Bill Horne agreed. “All the risks are being borne by the investors.”


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