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Towers plan on drawing board

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Voters may have a say in November on the latest proposal to transform downtown.By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published May 3, 2005CLEARWATER – The developers who want to buy City Hall have submitted plans for the site overlooking Clearwater Harbor, the first formal step toward a November referendum aimed at rejuvenating downtown.The plan includes transforming City Hall and the Calvary Baptist Church properties into a $250-million, mixed-use development, capped by what would become the city’s tallest towers. It would be the third attempt at gaining voter approval for a downtown redevelopment effort; the first two failed at the polls.The master plan, presented in response to a city request for ideas to redevelop the City Hall site, mirrors previously discussed concepts.The City Hall site would be leveled for 157 residential units in a 25-story tower along with 10,000 square feet for retail shops. Another 157-unit tower would be built on the current location of the Calvary Baptist sanctuary with another 10,000 square feet of retail, the plans show.The land encompassing the church’s current education building was not in the submittal, but developers have said they plan a third, smaller tower and a city-built parking garage.The developer, Opus South, already has a $15-million contract to purchase the Calvary properties, but the Tampa firm would also like to purchase City Hall, which now sits in between church-owned lots.Opus and city officials have discussed building a new 60,000-square-foot City Hall on the same property, but closer to Osceola Avenue. The Tampa company would then build the high-rise condominium on 1.7 acres nearer the water.Voters must approve the sale of most city-owned waterfront property, according to the city’s charter. That vote has been tentatively scheduled in November.But twice before, in 2000 and 2004, referendums involving downtown have failed.A city survey of 400 voters in March found mixed reaction to downtown redevelopment.In that survey, 64 percent of likely voters supported selling City Hall and replacing it with a mixed-use development that included better waterfront access. Nearly 75 percent of respondents would support the sale of City Hall as long as there was a public benefit in return.But 57 percent of likely city voters opposed buildings taller than 150 feet, while only 10 percent said they support taller buildings. In a separate question, 65 percent of respondents said they oppose 25-story buildings downtown.A final report accompanying the survey, issued by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, said the results do not doom Opus’ twin, 25-story tower concept.“It is impossible to know the level of public support or opposition that might exist for a given project plan without asking about that exact plan, including its details,” the report said.A more detailed site plan, which was originally scheduled to be turned over to the city last month, is now scheduled to be completed this month. That delay will not affect the date of the possible referendum, city officials said.Opus officials said they are continuing to move forward.“We didn’t anticipate the process being as detailed as it turned out to be,” said Bill West, Opus South’s real estate manager, explaining the delay. “The Clearwater process has a lot more hoops than some of the other places that we’ve dealt with.”Opus South is part of national builder Opus, one of the largest design-build companies in the country. Opus South has projects worth $179-million now under development, including two high-rise condominiums in St. Petersburg, 400 Beach Drive and Parkshore Plaza.The City Hall project would be Opus’ first Clearwater project. Its former president, Gerald Rauenhorst, is the developer building the new Hyatt on Clearwater Beach.–Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or asharockman@sptimes.comSource: http://www.sptimes.com/2005/05/03/Northpinellas/Towers_plan_on_drawin.shtml
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