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Condo project may spark downtown

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The proposed $15-million Old Clearwater City Flats wins design okay from the city’s Community Development Board. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published September 9, 2004 CLEARWATER – A 48-unit gated condominium complex will rise from the remnants of a dilapidated downtown area hardware store. The $15-million project, called Old Clearwater City Flats, also will include 4,500 square feet of retail space and a second floor terrace restaurant near the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Turner Street. The city’s Community Development Board has approved the design. Construction is scheduled to begin next year, with the first units opening in mid 2006. The developer, Wells Court, of Clearwater, has agreed to buy 2.8 acres, including the former Scotty’s site, for $1.375-million from Religious Community Services, the current owner. F. Blake Longacre, president of Wells Court, said Old Clearwater City Flats is an urban ideal – bordered by the Pinellas Trail and minutes from Clearwater Beach. Units in the five-floor, seven-building complex will cost from $259,900 to $299,900. Wednesday, city officials praised the project, which they say could sharply transform one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. “People bring energy to a downtown,” said City Manager Bill Horne. “When we redid our plan, we wanted to get away from light-manufacturing, light-industrial. Any kind of residential development in our downtown is welcome.” Longacre said he believes the neighborhoods between Missouri and Myrtle avenues are starting to improve and that his project will inspire further investment. Denis deVlaming, a lawyer whose practice has been on Turner Street since 1975, is less optimistic. On first glance, deVlaming said, the project didn’t seem to fit the neighborhood. For example, the Religious Community Service food pantry will remain next door. “I understand the idea, but you can’t get away from the neighborhood,” deVlaming said. “The litmus test is going to be in presales. If they’re selling 50-60 percent, it’s going to take off like wild fire. If they sell 2, 3 units, I hate to say it, but the handwriting will be on the wall.” Longacre said the project’s location is a selling point. When the new Memorial Causeway bridge opens, beach traffic will pass within blocks. Myrtle Avenue also is in the midst of major roadway improvements. “You can’t find a place like this,” said Longacre, 52, who already owns a medical office building in Clearwater and plans to open a real estate firm. “Look around. This is truly unique to the city.” The proposal also helps diversify the city’s downtown mix, a cornerstone for city officials ever since voters rejected public funded downtown improvements four years ago. A Times analysis this summer found that Church of Scientology members own more than 200 shops, restaurants, service outlets and small businesses in and around the downtown. As many as 900 condos and townhouses are to be developed in the area, mostly by Scientologists, the analysis showed. The city adopted a plan, sometimes called “solution by dilution,” that encourages independent, private growth. Longacre’s City Flats proposal fits that model. “I think you are starting to see the successes in downtown and that there is demand,” said Council member Frank Hibbard. “You’re going to get developers from all corners. They have a profit motive. And they see the opportunity.” The 1,700-square-foot condos will have two-car garages, Longacre said. Presales start Sept. 15. Shirley Moran, a member of the Community Development Board that approved the condo project, said Old Clearwater City Flats could provide a much-needed spark. “It’s an area that has really deteriorated,” Moran said. “This project is going to be a real boon for Clearwater. That sort of thing becomes contagious. It starts one place and pretty soon everybody gets into the picture.” Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or Source:
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