CLEARWATER BEACH — City officials are laying the groundwork for a waterfront boardwalk that could transform the quarter-mile stretch of old mom-and-pop motels and homes along Clearwater Harbor.
The Clearwater City Council recently approved $606,510 to design and build three public access points for the pedestrian path envisioned to front motels and restaurants on East Shore Drive between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway and Baymont Street.
The move was prompted by plans for a seafood restaurant and a 134-unit hotel as well as the prospect for several other redevelopment projects in the Marina District.
Clearwater Beach’s master plan, Beach by Design, offers landowners the chance to enjoy extra height and density if they build a segment of the boardwalk in front of their properties.
The district offers visitors a unique opportunity to dock their boats and walk just a few blocks west to dozens of shops and restaurants or white, sandy beaches.
Tim Adams owns the 14-unit Traveler Motel across the street from the water at 408 East Shore Drive. He sees big potential in the boardwalk and several development projects in the works along the harbor.
“East Shore is such a beautiful [area], and it’s almost like a forgotten corridor,” Adams said.
“I think you’re going to see something phenomenal happen here over the next few years.”
City planners hope the boardwalk will emulate the success of the $30-million beachfront promenade, Beach Walk, albeit on a smaller scale.
Development and commerce followed that winding pedestrian path, with major hotel and condo projects such as the Sandpearl Clearwater Beach Resort and the Hyatt Aqualea Resort, city Planning Director Michael Delk said.
Several property owners have razed old motel properties along East Shore to make way for redevelopment, but a major influx of tourists over the past year has heightened demand for more hotel projects to move forward, Delk said.
“What we’re finding is that demand is not only limited to the beach and the Gulfside waterfront,” Delk said.
Local restaurant chain Frenchy’s renovated the old Olympia Motel on East Shore and reopened it as Frenchy’s Oasis in 2010 next door to Frenchy’s Seafood Company.
The motel offers boat slips for overnight guests as well as transient boaters who come to dine at Frenchy’s Saltwater Café, located a block away on Poinsettia Avenue, Frenchy’s Marketing Director Jen Carlisle said.
Frenchy’s has submitted site plans for a new restaurant on the current site of Ann’s Edgewater Motel that include a boardwalk area where guests could look east over the water toward downtown Clearwater.
“That would obviously be beneficial for us, and we certainly get a lot of business from boaters in the area,” Carlisle said.
Those plans are on hold for the moment, though, as the restaurant recently opened a new location in Dunedin, she said.
Plans for a hotel on a nearby parcel on the northeast corner of East Shore and Papaya Street also include the boardwalk, though the developer hasn’t yet applied for building permits.
The process for building the boardwalk won’t follow as straight a path as Beach Walk.
The city is developing uniform design and material guidelines for the pathway, but actually building it is up to each landowner.
Several property owners have included the boardwalk in their site plans in order to enjoy incentives, which allow building above the restriction of two stories on the waterside and four stories across the street.
Because the boardwalk is optional for developers, gaps could remain in the path, Delk said.
The city would assume maintenance of the boardwalk after it’s built.
The city has been taking steps to encourage more boat traffic along the water, including easing restrictions on what types of properties can install transient docks.
Should several of the planned projects come to fruition, the area could explode with both boaters and other visitors who want to walk or dine along the harbor, Delk said.
“The boardwalk would be a game changer in that, really, it’s opening up the waterfront to public access,” he said.