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Downtown Clearwater residential projects break free of a slow trend

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Anyone looking for serious trouble in the condominium market will have a hard time finding it in Clearwater.

Michael Hinman – Staff Writer Bizjournals

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Water’s Edge Luxury building under construction in Downtown Clearwater

CLEARWATER – Three major residential projects are well under way including Water’s Edge from Opus South, The Strand from Clearwater Centre LLC and Station’s Square from Amon Investments. While it may appear on the surface to be Clearwater simply bucking a nationwide trend, in reality it’s nothing more than the latest piece in years of work redeveloping downtown. “We were behind everyone else,” said Geri Campos Lopez, the city’s director of economic development and housing. “We knew we needed a strategy, and it was one that had to begin with infrastructure. Then we knew we had to attract residential, and we couldn’t do that until we made downtown a destination.”

Rediscovering downtown

For years, downtown Clearwater struggled as its stores were nothing more than something for motorists to glance at while heading to the beach. At the same time, its main street — Cleveland Street — was maintained by the state as a part of State Road 60, and the infrastructure was simply too old to even begin to attract businesses. “Downtown Clearwater was not in good condition 10 years ago,” said Dwight Matheny, who chairs the executive board for the Clearwater Downtown Partnership Inc. “We knew we had to get [State Road] 60 off of Cleveland Street, and that was going to be a prerequisite of seeing anything really substantial happen there. By getting a bridge built and creating a new avenue for people to get to the beach, we could begin to take back our downtown.”

City leaders did just that, eventually regaining control of Cleveland, and that allowed them to begin an extensive streetscaping and infrastructure project that concluded last year. While some empty storefronts were already beginning to find tenants, the residential component was still necessary to bring even more people downtown. The housing boom helped that aspect of redevelopment move along and prompted companies like Opus South to start working on tower projects. “Based on the research we’ve been able to do, Clearwater hasn’t suffered nearly as bad as perhaps the Tampa market,” said Martin. “We are not seeing nearly as drastic of a downturn in Clearwater as we’re seeing in some other parts of the country, and I think that is a good sign. The $100 million tower is located at the end of Cleveland Street, facing some of downtown’s limited waterfront. It’s expected to open its 156 units next month and will be the first of three major projects to open.

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Paola Lombardi, broker of Great Homes Realty and Niki Fiala, sales agent of Great Homes Realty, visit Station Square Condominium while under construction.

Another is the renovation of a 15-story office building at 1100 Cleveland St., recently named The Strand, that will have 71 condominiums surrounded by 20,000 square feet of retail and office space. The $45 million project is well under way. The same can be said of Station Square, which began construction in December of its 15-story tower at 628 Cleveland St. “Right now while there is a slow period elsewhere, we’re coming up from a period that was slower than everyone else,” the Partnership’s Matheny said. “Our property values were so low, it became an inviting opportunity for developers and investors to come in.”

Buyers’ loophole

Water’s Edge is nearing completion on Clearwater’s Cleveland Street, but that hasn’t come without bumps and bruises. Attorneys for Opus South discovered an error in the project’s more than 100 sales contracts that in effect make each contract null and void. “We anticipate that we’ll start our closings in the end of June, so that is good news,” said Tony Martin, VP of residential development for Opus South. “The bad news for us is that we did have a glitch in our condo docs that would allow some of our buyers to get out of their contracts.” However, with a new series of discounts as well as hard hat tours to show buyers their individual units under construction, Martin expects to minimize any mass exit of buyers.

mhinman@bizjournals.com | 813.342.2477 http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2008/03/03/focus4.html?ana=from_rss

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