Clearwater CRA Launches Placemaking Grant Program to Activate and Beautify Downtown Spaces

The Clearwater Community Redevelopment is looking for creative ideas to beautify and energize underutilized spaces downtown and has a new grant program to help bring those ideas to life.

The ARC Placemaking Grant provides up to $25,000 for projects that beautify and energize public spaces or mobilize the community.

“It’s about taking a place where you normally pass, whether it’s empty or not very attractive, and transforming it,” explains Eric Santiago, public relations and program manager for the ‘BOW. “You could think of a better way to use this space. It was our way of setting up a program to get people to share their ideas because we know there are a lot of creative people out there with great ideas. It was our way of establishing this process. Hopefully, the more people start to learn about this program, the more we’ll start to see and hear what people want.

The city has a total of $50,000 for place-making grants in this fiscal year, which runs through the end of September. Santiago says city officials will then consider the future of the program after that first go-around. To be eligible, projects must fall within the geographic boundaries of the Downtown Clearwater CRA District.

Placemaking is a broad term that generally involves a collaborative effort to take a public space such as a park, plaza, street, or vacant lot and improve it to create an environment where people want to be.

“How do we take the place as it is now and change it or improve it,” Santiago explains. “These are not meant to be long-term improvements. They are supposed to be easier projects to implement.

The Clearwater CRA program focuses on three types of projects. There are beautification efforts such as public art, decorations or improvements to streets, alleys, vacant lots and other spaces.

Activations can include cultural and performing arts programs, storefronts and showcases, interactive and technological enhancements, and the creation of small community gathering places such as parklets that extend sidewalks to create more space and amenities for people.

Engagement programs include community development activities and projects such as book clubs, community bike rides, yoga and other activities, and community gardens.

Santiago cites a public art installation the ARC currently has downtown as a prime example of the type of place-making project the city is looking for. “The World Within”, by artist Todd MacIntire, is a sound installation along Gaslight Alley off Cleveland Street that plays the sounds of the natural world captured during a day in the Everglades. The sound installation, which runs until June 15, transforms the tree- and plant-lined driveway into an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

“We had an artist with an interesting and creative idea, but we didn’t have the means to work with him easily,” Santiago explains. “This place-making program attempts to simplify that process. If we have people who have ideas but don’t really know how to put them forward.

Inside the ARC District, the grant program focuses on the Pinellas Trail, the 400 and 500 blocks of Cleveland Street, Prospect Lake Park, and Station Square Park. Underutilized spaces, storefronts and vacant lots throughout the neighborhood are also priorities. Other areas “where a need for change can be demonstrated” are considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Placemaking program also prioritizes projects that engage kids or downtown employees or merge art and technology. These projects are eligible to potentially receive grants to cover 100% of their costs, with a cap of $25,000. Projects carried out by neighborhood associations are also eligible for potential full cost support.

Landowners, tenants, organizations and individuals who are approved can receive up to 50% of their funding in the form of seed capital to launch a project. Otherwise, the grant is paid as a reimbursement of costs.

For more information and how to apply, go to Creating Places in Downtown Clearwater.

Ryan H. Bowman