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Church finds buyer for downtown sites

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Calvary Baptist and city officials did not reveal the developer or the plans for the church’s Osceola Avenue properties. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published November 1, 2004 CLEARWATER – An unnamed developer has signed a contract to buy Calvary Baptist Church’s downtown properties, the pastor of the church announced Sunday. The Rev. Willy Rice, senior pastor, told parishioners during Sunday morning services that the church has entered into a tentative agreement with a new buyer for its Osceola Avenue properties. The sites, which sit on the bluff and straddle City Hall, have been targeted by city leaders as crucial to downtown’s rejuvenation. Rice would not reveal the name of the developer or their plans. City leaders were also mum on the matter when reached Sunday. “I heard they’re big,” said Mayor Brian Aungst, who is scheduled to meet the development team today. Without giving specifics, Rice told parishioners the deal will be good for the church and the city. He announced the sale at two morning services. “We’re excited about the buyer and what they’ll bring to the city of Clearwater,” said Rice, who declined to reveal the sale price. The properties had been on the market with an asking price of around $20-million; the church rejected an earlier offer of $14.75-million, according to published reports. City Manager Bill Horne said city officials have not yet met the developers. The city has said it would sell City Hall next door if the right deal comes along. A decision to move City Hall would have to be approved by Clearwater voters. But together, the 6.1 acres overlooking Clearwater Harbor could become a prime site for massive redevelopment, city leaders believe. Neither Horne or Aungst changed message Sunday. “We’ll consider a proposal that includes City Hall,” Horne said. “We got new buyers. We have no idea what they want to do.” Sunday’s announcement makes public the latest proposal to buy the historic church site. In 2002, Skip Dvornik, assistant pastor, said the church was speaking with six potential developers, and another from West Palm Beach was eyeing a hotel as part of the site. A year ago, a local investment group offered $14.75-million for the properties to build condominiums and retail shops. But that deal died when church leaders said they wanted $17.9-million. Abdi R. Boozar-Jomehri, the man who led the investment interest, called the counteroffer ridiculous. And earlier this year, a Palm Harbor software company was negotiating a potential sale. SCC Soft Computer sought to relocate its corporate headquarters from U.S. 19 to S Osceola Avenue, a plan that would have brought 500 high-tech jobs to the city’s downtown. But none of those deals gelled. The buyer announced Sunday is a new player, Horne said. Rice asked church members to pray about the “business partnership.” He said more information would follow in the coming days. The sale must be approved by the church membership, who will gather Nov. 28 to vote on the deal. Calvary Baptist is preparing for a move to east Clearwater to a new 28-acre complex at McMullen-Booth Road and Drew Street. A rendering of the new home hung from the church’s rafters Sunday. When the 800 or so churchgoers heard the news halfway through a 75-minute contemporary service, they burst into applause. Rice thanked those who had been praying for the sale. “This is certainly cause to rejoice,” he said. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or Source:
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