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Clearwater approves Beach Walk financing

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Anticipating the arrival of a Hyatt hotel, the City Council allocates $12.5 million to the project. By LESTER R. DAILEY Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2004

CLEARWATER – The City Council has unanimously approved adding almost $12.5 million to the Beach Walk project to transform South Gulfview Boulevard into a curvilinear 3-lane road with beachfront promenade. That’s on top of $2.5 million already allocated to the project.

The Beach Walk design has been on the drawing board for quite some time and is 30 percent completed. What spurred the sudden burst of activity was the announcement by Tampa developer Brian Taub that he has persuaded the Chicago-based Hyatt hotel chain to operate the hotel he plans to build next to hotelier Tony Markopoulos’ proposed 350-room hotel on South Gulfview.

“We feel that this is going to bring additional quality development to the area,” Taub said.

Hyatt owns 40 percent of the rooms in the 125 U.S. hotels it operates. The rest are under various partnership and operating agreements. But Hyatt and Taub declined to disclose the exact nature of their deal, other than to say that it isn’t a partnership.

“We’ve made a capital commitment to the development to show our interest in being here in Clearwater,” said Michael Shindler, Hyatt’s vice president of development. “I’m not at liberty to talk about that commitment, but it is several million dollars.”

City officials are thrilled that a Hyatt is coming, whatever its arrangement with Taub. The city has long been trying to lure a 4-star hotel to Clearwater Beach.

“In my estimation we’ve hit a grand slam by having Hyatt this interested and putting money up,” Mayor Brian Aungst said. “We’ve got to make it work.”

“The Hyatt chain is a tremendous opportunity for the beach,” Councilman Hoyt Hamilton agreed. “The quality is unquestionable.”

But Hamilton worried that the money spent on Beach Walk could delay the Cleveland Street streetscape, efforts to attract a first-run movie theater and other downtown projects. Vice Mayor Frank Hibbard and council members Bill Jonson and Carlen Petersen expressed similar concerns.

“It severely limits the amount of cash we have available for other projects,” Assistant City Manager Garry Brumback conceded. “But there are alternatives.”

The Beach Walk project will result in a net loss of 374 city-owned parking spaces. That will reduce parking revenues by $730,000 a year, which must be made up by raising the rates on the remaining spaces or by some other means.

“I guess I’m like a kid in a candy store; I want it all,” Petersen said. “I want our downtown to be the best it can be and I want our beach to be the best it can be.”

But it is hoped that, in the long run, Beach Walk will actually boost the city’s cash flow. The Hyatt, which requires Beach Walk as a condition for locating on Clearwater Beach, will pay $350,000 a year in property taxes, and it is hoped that other new hotels will boost the taxable value of beachfront land. And Aungst added that Beach Walk will increase tourism, which will benefit all of Pinellas County, so some federal grants might be available.

“This is the largest tourist destination in the county, the city of Clearwater,” Aungst said.

Source: http://www.tbnweekly.com/content_articles/082504_bee-04.txt

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