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Two 25-story towers proposed

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Developer Opus South has unveiled plans for the properties over Clearwater Harbor. But much of the proposal requires voter approval. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published February 25, 2005 CLEARWATER – Two 25-story towers, which would become the tallest buildings in the city, are part of the latest plans to remake the downtown bluff, developers said Thursday. In their first detailed discussion about the Calvary Baptist and City Hall sites, executives with Tampa developer Opus South unveiled a series of extensive changes proposed for the showpiece properties over Clearwater Harbor. Two residential towers, a public parking garage and a rebuilt City Hall are part of the master plan, executives said Thursday. A third tower, 15 to 20 stories, might be for either office or residential use. A public promenade, 120 feet wide with parking, would bisect the buildings and provide an unfettered view of the water. In total, the developers offer a $250-million private investment in Clearwater’s downtown – much of which requires voter approval. “We need to have something that made economic sense for us and also made sense for the community,” said Jerry Shaw, senior vice president with Opus South. “We think this (concept) is fair to both parties.” Opus already has a contract to buy the Calvary properties – the school and church – for $15-million. If it closes on the sale in October, the company would have the right to build what it chooses on that. But the company wants to include the City Hall site as part of the redevelopment. Before Opus can purchase that property, voters must approve the sale by a referendum, which is tentatively scheduled for November. Developers want to buy about half of the current 3-acre City Hall site to build their residential tower. With the proceeds of the sale, the city would build a new, bigger City Hall on the other half of the property. The developers also would dedicate part of the church property, now occupied by Calvary Christian School, for a public parking garage that the city would build. “This project can transfer downtown Clearwater somewhat overnight,” said William West, Opus South’s real estate manager. Opus is looking into salvaging the original Calvary sanctuary and relocating it. City officials praised the proposals as a good start. Twice before, voters rejected proposals aimed at rejuvenating downtown. In 2000, voters rejected a $200-million plan that would transform the downtown waterfront. In March, a less ambitious proposal was turned down. This plan, officials said, is simpler for potential voters to digest. Still, alterations are likely, said City Manager Bill Horne. “It appears to be a concept that staff believes has some merit and could be supported by a lot of our residents,” Horne said. “Opus has been very sensitive to citizen concerns about the bluff and about how development might look on the City Hall site and Calvary properties.” Mayor Frank Hibbard said the plan accomplishes several of the city’s goals. It brings more residential and retail to the downtown and maintains public access to the waterfront. “There’s still some details to be sketched out,” Hibbard said. “But a lot of the features we’re hoping for exist in this project.” Opus executives have already met with Fred Thomas, the former city commissioner and Pinch-A-Penny Pool founder who helped torpedo the two previous downtown referendums. Neither Shaw nor West would discuss their conversations with Thomas. Thomas declined to comment Thursday. Anne Garris, the spokeswoman of Save-the-Bayfront, a group Thomas formed to preserve the city’s waterfront, said she had not yet seen the plans and declined to comment. Opus officials say they plan to start presenting their plan throughout the community to gauge interest. Hibbard said there are obvious questions. “We need to have a dialogue about whether City Hall needs to stay on that property or be over by the (Municipal Services Building),” on Myrtle Avenue, Hibbard said. “Is there enough public land retained? Is there enough of a view corridor? Is height an issue? “We want to take all of these plans out to the citizens and get feedback,” Hibbard said. Source:
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