Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Strand project mired in fines, may benefit from nearby Clearwater development

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CLEARWATER — Prospects for a long-vacant concrete and steel eyesore near the eastern entrance to downtown Clearwater may be brightening, but so far the only improvements have been to city coffers.

Such is the depths to which "the Strand" has sunk. The 15-story building, once touted on a billboard along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard as a "slice of European luxury," has become a hangout for high school partiers and temporary shelter for the homeless.

Espacio USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish company, has been fined $250 each day since April 25 for code violations on the building. As of today, the company has been fined $10,500, but it doesn't have to pay the bill yet.

"They don't pay until they come into compliance and any reductions or adjustments have been determined by the Municipal Code Enforcement Board," said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli in an email Tuesday.

The office building at 1100 Cleveland St., once known as the 1100 Building, was bought in 2004 for $5.7 million by Espacio and developer Guy Bonneville. Workers stripped it down to a shell with plans to adapt it for high-end condos.

Along the way, Bonneville and Espacio split and ended up in a lawsuit. Meanwhile, the luxury condo plan complete with concierge, spa and pool fell victim to the housing bust.

No work has been done for years. Originally scheduled to open in 2008, then 2012, it is now for sale, but no buyer has pulled the trigger.

"They've been marketing the property. We've been doing everything we can to facilitate the sale," said Rod Irwin, assistant city manager for economic development.

The city is willing to help with demolition costs and other incentives, he said.

Katherine O'Donniley, a Tampa attorney representing Espacio, declined comment.

One developer wanted to rebuild with higher ceilings more in tune with modern condos. Another asked about using the first six floors for offices, said Michael Delk, the city's planning director.

"From the sixth floor up, I've been told the views are pretty spectacular. Even though they're not near the water, you can see the beaches and waterfront," Delk said.

The city has already tweaked the zoning code for ceiling height and wouldn't have a problem with office space, Delk said.

"We're willing to take a look at whatever options are economically viable," he said.

The economic prospects for the building might be on the upswing, though.

On Friday, city economic development officials announced that Prospect Real Estate Group, an Orlando-area firm, has been tapped to develop Prospect Lake, a nearly 7-acre parcel across Cleveland Street from the Strand.

Having the 240 high-end apartments with 15,000 square feet of retail nearby will help sell the Strand property, planners say.

"We think it would help the viability of that building. We have heard conversationally from developers that the more certainty they have around that building, the better," Irwin said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

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