Feature Article - March 2017
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By the Shore

Waterfronts Provide Economic Strength, Charm

By Deborah L. Vence

Steps for Waterfront Planning

In order to ensure that your waterfront is a success, it's important to keep in mind some important steps during the planning process.

"The most important initial consideration when conceptualizing a waterfront space is identifying the environmental and jurisdictional opportunities and limitations of a specific site," Crawford said.

"Watersheds, environmentally sensitive areas, rivers, lakes, floodplains, floodways, wetlands and coastal regions all have agencies and regulations that define parameters and permittable uses in these areas," he said. "Understanding these nuances and how compatible potential waterfront development uses are will determine the feasibility of the effort moving forward."

Romens recommended that the first step in planning a waterfront space is a complete needs assessment.

"Identify specific project goals and take into consideration what demographics you are looking to serve," he said. "What does the space lend itself to? What budget do you have to work with, as well as what resources are available? Can it be planned, designed and built in phases?"

For example, in Clearwater, Fla., city officials now are planning for a massive waterfront development that is expected to take place in two phases.

"Our plan is in the conceptual planning stage. We're just completing the actual master plan," said Gina Clayton, assistant planning and development director for the city of Clearwater.

Back in 2014 the city had an Urban Land Institute advisory services panel come to town, which recommended that Clearwater create a masterplan for the waterfront bluff area.

"It's one of the highest bluff areas in Florida. It's a great resource, a beautiful waterfront, but a disconnect from there to the downtown area," Clayton said. "That was the reason why there was a recommendation to strengthen our downtown and tie it together. And, that's really how we got started."

The plan, dubbed "Imagine Clearwater," is a community-driven masterplanning process. The idea is to better connect the waterfront with the downtown area, draw visitors to the area, and catalyze greater activity and investment downtown. (Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., an infrastructure consulting firm in Tampa, is part of the team behind the "Imagine Clearwater" waterfront park project.)

"This was really seen as a redevelopment," Clayton said. "We had an extensive public engagement process. People came with different perspectives and from different neighborhoods. It was a citywide effort because the key is how we can bring [together] all the people from every area of Clearwater. We had seven community workshops."

The waterfront masterplan includes four key strategies that the city's consultants have identified as leading to the success of the waterfront area.

Turning waterfronts into effective recreational amenities involves a lot of planning, expertise and a thorough awareness of the environment.

"We have to have a dynamic open space and new open space along the waterfront. Coachman Park has to have an active edge framing the park …" she said, adding that access to the waterfront also would have to complement all modes of transportation.

One part of the plan is to take the now-defunct convention center and create a civic gateway in its place, as well as establish an opening to the park. Another plan is to reorient the current concert band shell area.

"We have concerts and events, jazz and blues festival. We are increasing the size, oriented to work better with the sunset and into the band shell," she said.

Another plan for the area is a playground space that is like a garden, but incorporates play equipment. "In this area, we hope to improve interaction for people with families going to the library and go into a play space into the park," Clayton said.

Another vision is to have ponds and vegetation in the park area. "Have it as a natural setting and draw different types of users and ages and backgrounds. Hopefully, there is something there for everyone," she said. "The park needs to be framed with active uses, people eating and shopping there, and that will increase activity to the park."

To boot, the masterplan calls for improved connectivity in regards to the different ways to get in and out of the park, such as bicycle lanes and even a trolley to drop off people.

"The park right now is bounded by two streets. We are changing the way we access the park," she said. "There would be no cars by the waterfront."

The idea, too, is to design the space so that when there is an event, people would have to go through the heart of downtown to get to the park area. Right now, visitors bypass the heart of downtown.

Clayton said the waterfront project involves a two-phase implementation process. Each phase would take about five years to complete.