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New plans for church site, City Hall offer win for all

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A Times Editorial Published June 12, 2005 Developer Opus South has made some smart changes to its proposal to buy and develop the bayfront property where Clearwater City Hall now stands. Months ago when Opus South representatives Jerry Shaw and Bill West revealed their plan to develop the Calvary Baptist Church properties downtown and their hope to also buy and develop the City Hall site, it was difficult not to consider them naive about Clearwater. They wanted to put a 25-story tower – taller than any other building in town – on the City Hall footprint. On what is now the City Hall parking lot, a new City Hall would be built. Bracketing the City Hall property on the north and south, was the remainder of the Opus South proposal. On what is now the Calvary Baptist Church property on the north side of City Hall, the developers planned to construct another 25-story condo tower with parking underneath and some small retail shops on the bottom floor. On the Calvary Baptist education building property south of City Hall, they planned a parking garage and another 15- to 20-story tower that would have either condominiums or offices. The developers were rosily optimistic about their proposal, even though they would have to win over Clearwater voters for the portion of their project that would sit on the City Hall parcel. The city can’t sell the public property without voter approval. West and Shaw didn’t seem alarmed by the referendum prospect, though Clearwater voters have turned down two previous downtown development proposals. Then, West and Shaw apparently got good advice from some knowledgeable veterans of those referendum battles. They also saw the results of a survey of 400 residents asking for opinions of the Opus South concept. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they would oppose any building over 15 stories – no surprise there. Seventy-three percent said they could support sale of the City Hall property to a private developer, but only if some public benefit were offered in exchange, such as more green space, more parking, better access to the downtown waterfront or other amenities. Only 7 percent of the respondents said residential development was the key to improving downtown. Better restaurants, better shopping and better waterfront access ranked much higher on their lists. A week ago Shaw and West, saying they had taken to heart what Clearwater prefers, rolled out a substantially different concept for two of the three properties. They cut 100 feet off the condo tower that would sit on the City Hall footprint, bringing it down to that magic 15 stories. They added what will likely be an even shorter office building on the same parcel to provide places for people to work downtown. On the ground floor of those structures, they added space for shops and restaurants, essentially doubling the retail space in their original plan. And surrounding all of that, they added a public esplanade that would have landscaping, public art, sidewalk cafes, a place to view Clearwater Harbor and access to an area below the bluff where the city someday hopes to expand Coachman Park. On the parcel that now has the Calvary Baptist education building, they proposed a new City Hall, a public parking garage and perhaps a much-needed downtown hotel. In unveiling the new proposal, the developers mentioned it is still conceptual, but details will be forthcoming. “We’ve got a lot to do. We are literally starting from scratch,” West said. City officials also have made the smart decision to cancel the referendum that had been planned for November and instead hold it in early March when there is a regular city election. Those four extra months will give the developer much more time to fully explain the proposal to the public. (Clearwater voters don’t like surprises, either.) With more retail, restaurants, offices, a City Hall, new public parking, condominiums, more outdoor spaces for the public and perhaps also a hotel, the Opus South proposal now seems to offer something for everyone. Now, perhaps, residents will consider it a more worthy project for Clearwater’s valued downtown waterfront. Source:
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