CLEARWATER — The concrete shell of an unfinished high-rise looms over Cleveland Street at the eastern entrance to downtown Clearwater. Occasionally, workers in hard hats bustle around the site. But construction has slowed to a crawl on a $45 million luxury condo tower called the Strand at Clearwater Centre.
Now, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce is suing the high-rise's developer over the delays in finishing the building.
The chamber says it agreed three years ago to buy 6,000 square feet of office space at the base of the tower for $1.5-million. The organization wants to relocate soon, but the building that was supposed to become its new home isn't ready. So the chamber is demanding a refund of its $300,000 deposit.
The chamber has filed suit against Clearwater Centre LLC, the company that's redeveloping the former office building at Cleveland Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue into high-end condominiums.
"The chamber has no ill will or hard feelings toward the company. But we have to move forward," said the chamber's attorney, Charles Samarcos. "The chamber is not in the business of suing people. There was no alternative left to be able to recover the money — a deposit that was put down for a building that hasn't been constructed in two years."
Clearwater Centre's managing partner, Guy Bonneville, said the company has been in negotiations with the chamber for some time over the purchase contract and deposit.
"We are disappointed that they have chosen to file suit as a negotiating tactic," Bonneville said. "While we do not believe they can prevail in their lawsuit, we intend to keep the lines of communication open and believe the dispute can be resolved in short order."
Bonneville's company bought a mostly vacant office building in 2004 for $5.7-million. Workers stripped the 15-story tower down to its bones, preparing to overhaul it.
Then the real estate market and the economy went bust.
The Strand at Clearwater Centre was originally slated to open in spring 2008. Later, Bonneville struck a deal with the city to finish by this June. He recently said he and his partners, Spain-based Espacio USA, are slowing down the pace of construction, intending to open in late 2010 — hopefully in time for a rebound.
"We're biding some time to get past this economic slump," Bonneville said in April.
The plan is to build 88 condos with high-end amenities along with 22,500 square feet of upscale commercial space. Shops and offices are to go in a three-story perimeter building that connects to the high-rise and its parking garage.
That's where Clearwater's chamber of commerce was going to move.
After Bonneville's company bought the office tower, it also purchased the chamber's 22,000-square-foot headquarters next door for $1.9-million. That deal was struck in June 2006 when the chamber agreed to buy office space in the high-rise project.
Now the chamber is eager to move out of its aging offices at 1130 Cleveland St. Its lawsuit alleges that, because the new location next door wasn't completed by a June 2009 deadline, the chamber is entitled to get its $300,000 deposit back.
Chamber president Bob Clifford said he still hopes the condominium tower is a success.
"The developers have invested a significant amount of money in that project," Clifford said. "They're over there pouring concrete. They're doing everything in their power to make it happen."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.