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Clearwater Beach parking garage project gets vote next week

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by  Staff Writer – Tampa Bay Business Journal

pelican-walk-parkinggarage2014Looking for a parking spot on Clearwater Beach has long required sharp vision, quick reflexes, guile, luck and, usually, patience. Given the area’s density, most people agree that the solution is to go vertical.

As early as next week, the Clearwater City Council will vote on whether to move forward with a proposed seven-level, 642-space parking garage behind the Pelican Walk Shopping Center on Mandalay Avenue. The location, north of the Memorial Causeway roundabout, is parking-challenged. A city map shows fewer than 100 authorized public spaces.

Paradise Group LLC of Safety Harbor is spearheading the project. It has under contract a 1.5-acre tract — which includes 38,000 square feet of retail (with plans for an additional 11,000 square feet) — with owner Ben Mallah. Paradise is awaiting city approval to move forward with the $11.5 million purchase.

But a handful of vocal residents and business owners have marshaled forces to stand in the project’s way. Some of them live in condo towers on the beach side of Mandalay and are concerned about obstructed views to the east, and an increase in vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“Unfortunately, the large number of people who will benefit from the garage don’t go to public meetings,” said Paradise principal Mike Connor. “I think those objecting are a tiny minority.”

Further, Connor says the design of the 75-foot garage — 25 feet lower than the zoned maximum — prevents an add-on of more height.

The issue has been complicated by the Memorial Day shootings in and around the parking garage at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Hotel. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos sees it as “an isolated incident,” and hopes the aftershock does not inform the current parking garage project or others going forward.

Paradise’s deal calls for the city to buy 450 spaces in the garage for an estimated $11.3 million in mid-2016. The plan would earmark the bottom two levels for customers at the retail center, four levels for the city, and the upper floor to likely be contracted to nearby businesses for employee use.

Connor’s outfit would continue to own and run the facility. “This allows us to build the garage now and the city to buy the spaces in the future,” he said.

One of the more vocal opponents to the garage is Billy Day, owner of a small motel close by called the East Shore Resort. He’s concerned about congestion in the area, safety of pedestrians and the fact that he’s seen no traffic study connected to the project.

He also gets the impression that the city is giving Paradise a “sweetheart deal.” Additionally, “you have some of the most valuable real estate in Clearwater right across the street,” he asserted. “Those values will decrease dramatically and result in lost property-tax revenue.”

The City Council vote, which is targeted for the June 4 meeting (but has not yet made it on the agenda) will decide on the sale, design, finance, construction, ownership and operation of the garage. In other words, it’s live or die.

“That was intentional,” Connor said. “I submitted everything so they can consider it all now, bring it to a head and not have it drag on for months.” It appears that Mayor Cretekos is in his corner: ” I haven’t heard an argument as to why I shouldn’t support it.”

 / Staff Writer-Tampa Bay Business Journal

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