Downtown Clearwater says it's tired of watching other cities have all the fun - and success. So they’re about to offer a ton of money to businesses willing to bring more breweries and restaurants their way.
Restaurateurs like Dan Shouvlin must have faith in downtown Clearwater because he just dropped a boatload of money there, opening the Clearsky on Cleveland draught house this week.
“What a perfect place to open an old fashioned bar with a restaurant,” said Shouvlin.
Clearwater says it needs more spots like Clearsky in downtown and fewer spots with vacancies. Several stores, even on the city’s main drag, Cleveland Street, remain closed.
So this week, the city council voted to get aggressive, offering five year business loans - up to a cool quarter million dollars each - to attract five new brew-pubs or restaurants. A catalyst, they hope.
“That will open the way and give confidence to other businesses, entrepreneurs and investors, to come downtown and open their business,” said Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency
Director Seth Taylor.
Taylor says the city will loan businesses up 35% of their start-up costs with a cap of $250,000.
For investors, here's the big payoff. Each year those who get the money stay open the city says it will write off – erase - one fifth of the loan.
“After five years, if you're still up and running, it converts entirely into a grant and is completely forgiven,” said Taylor.
You might wonder why the city would offer such aggressive measures. After all, downtown Clearwater would seem to have it all. Entertainment. A huge waterfront park.
And yet, they realize people drive right past it. West to the beach. East to St. Pete or Tampa.
It doesn’t help that Cleveland Street is four blocks off the main drag through downtown. But that’s not the reason visitors told them they’re bypassing the area.
“We were just looking at the directory down here and it was really just a few restaurants and little shops. Nothing. Nothing too exciting,” said Britni Wolff, visiting from Cleveland.
Dave Bronza, also visiting, says he spends his days on the beach, and nights in St. Petersburg or Tampa. As for downtown Clearwater, “Yeah, they have restaurants stuff going on, but there's nothing besides that it seems like.”
On our 10News Facebook page, we asked what would draw you to downtown Clearwater, and people gave us answers including, “more food and drink”, “free parking”, and “less traffic”.
“You know, if they want that younger crowd they definitely need some clubs or bars,” said Wolff.
Maybe that’s why even folks at the Christian Science Reading Room, which has sat on Cleveland Street for decades, agree downtown needs something. Even if more bars wouldn’t be their first choice.
“You know, that's what it takes. That's where people are at. You meet them where they're at, I guess,” said Lynn Roberts, who has worked at the Christian Science Reading room for 10 years.
While officials would like to see the changes come around as soon as possible, they want to make sure they get it right and choose tenants who have the best chance of success and the financial resources to protect the taxpayer dollars being invested in them.
They’ll spend up to two years, they say, selecting the five key businesses that they believe can help turn what has been a sleepy downtown Clearwater into a bustling business district where people can work, live and play.