The boom days never seem to end in Clearwater Beach. Even as a new resort, the Opal Sands, has just opened, several other hotels are under construction and are due to open in the year ahead. They will bring even more people to the already crowded beach.
That is not a bad thing, according to the CEO of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce Darlene Kole.
“Our beach is the number one beach in the USA and with the popularity of the beach come people,” she said. “The new accommodations on the beach will just offer more options for people to stay.”
There are five new hotels already under construction and a sixth that has gotten approval to begin.
- Hampton Inn
- The Windham Grand Resort
- Springhill Suites
- Fairfield Inn
- Clearwater Beach Guest House.
A Courtyard by Marriott is the one with approvals in place but has yet to break ground.Observers might think that with all the new rooms coming on line, roughly 800 new ones this year, that Clearwater Beach will have more rooms than ever before. Not so. There were more rooms on the beach in 2002, but then the condo craze hit and many hotels were converted into condos or demolished to make way for condos.Geri Lopez, Clearwater’s director of Economic Development and Housing, said condos are not good for a tourist economy; hotels on the other hand are.
“It is important because tourism is such a big economic driver,” she said.
A condo resident will buy groceries and stay home; they might eat out once a week, whereas a hotel guest will spend money on all sorts of activities. Hotel rooms bring in more taxes; they help keep the economy going.”
For those who might argue that there is already enough congestion on the beach Lopez said the new construction is well within legal guidelines.
“It is all allowed by the city zoning laws and code,” she said. “And there are property rights for property owners. No one is doing anything they shouldn’t be doing.”
Back in 2002 there were 4,400 hotel rooms on Clearwater Beach. Then hundreds were lost because of the condo conversions. The numbers are just getting back to that level now nearly 15 years later. When all the new hotels are up and running, the total number of rooms on the beach will be 4,300, nearly but not quite the level of 2002.
Michael Delk, Clearwater’s director of Planning and Development, said the next big challenge is managing all the new development.
“We move now from a situation where we try to encourage an upgrade of the current product and expand it. I call it managing the success phase,” he said.
Part of managing the success is finding ways to make the guests comfortable.
“We’re looking at a new parking garage that is due to open on the north beach in a few months,” he said. “Now it is a matter of developing the transportation options and technique to help manage the success.”
Delk says little things are starting to happen on the beach, which make things more pleasant for the visitors.
“On the south beach the owner of the Surfstyle bought the old Walgreens pharmacy and turned it into a Surfstyle, then turned his own store into a neighborhood market, a brilliant idea,” he said.
Delk said the beach has become very pedestrian friendly.
“There is no back-out parking on our beach which makes it pedestrian safe,” he said. “If you are staying here you can park your car for a week and never need it. Everything is within walking distance.”
Chamber of Commerce CEO Kole agrees.
“We are a small island, there is no need of a car,” she said. “All the new structures that are being built include parking so once you arrive you can leave your car. We’re the only pedestrian friendly place in Pinellas County and perhaps in all of Florida that once you arrive you don’t need a car.”
A concern, however, is that there are too many vehicles in and around Clearwater Beach. There is a lineup on the Memorial Causeway every day of motorists trying to get to the beach, then clogging local roads trying to find places to park.
Kole said the remedies are coming.
“The ferry service is what we are pushing now,” she said. “We’re trying to make it easier for day-trippers to come over and shop and eat and spend the day on the beach. The ferry has been operating for over a year now. There are already two of them and they are very popular.”
Ferry users can leave their cars on the mainland side of Clearwater and retrieve them on the return trip. The same holds true for the hundreds of employees who work in the hotels and restaurants and resorts.
Kole said the activity and success of Clearwater Beach is because everyone involved works hard to keep it that way. She pays particular tribute to the city of Clearwater.
“The city works very hard at keeping the beach clean and safe,” she said. “That is why we’re number one.”
Clearwater Beacon March 26, 2016