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Clearwater's Spyglass Resort to be demolished

CLEARWATER — At one time, it was nine stories of kitsch, known for cheap rooms, a blazing neon blue sign and the hot-air balloon mural emblazoned above its entryway.

But over the years, the 64-room Spyglass Resort started to wear down. It leaked, it had broken windows and chicken wire patched the balconies.

Now Clearwater leaders want the old S Gulfview Boulevard landmark gone. And the current owners of the empty building may be able to accommodate the city's wishes, perhaps within four to five months.

If they do, city officials are ready to say good riddance.

"It's an eyesore," Mayor Frank Hibbard said Monday, summing up the general feeling of the City Council during a work session.

It wasn't always a mess, though.

Tourists checked in from all over the country, and teens hung out there. Visitors spent a lot of time gazing at the 100-foot-tall mural, which depicts a blue sky, a hot-air balloon and a bearded sea captain peering through a sextant.

"In its heyday, it was a fabulous place, a really, really neat hotel and everyone was so used to seeing that balloon," said Sheila Cole, executive director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Built near the S Gulfview Boulevard and Coronado Drive split for $1-million in 1971, the Spyglass was the tallest building on the beach at the time.

In November 1978, home-grown artist Roger Bansemer spent six days painting the mural. At one point, he hung over the resort's ledge to finish because he couldn't get the scaffold up that high.

As he worked, the resort's owner offered a free weekend at the motel and a balloon ride to whoever guessed when he would finish the mural. (It was done Nov. 14, 1978.)

A few days later, a Largo visitor told the St. Petersburg Times: "I never bothered to look in that direction before. There was nothing worth looking at. Now, whenever I go across the causeway, I always glance at the mural. It gives me a nice feeling."

Today, however, the mural and the building it adorns occupy a spot that developers want to turn into a massive 250-room resort with 200 time-shares. To do that, the old hotel has to go.

And soon.

Thursday, attorneys for Tampa entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel and his Miami-based partners, the Related Group, will ask the city for an extension on the deadline negotiated with the city to start their $250-million long-delayed project.

Developers initially wanted to start work on a resort 150 feet tall and 500 feet across with 350 condo-hotel units and 75 condominiums by the fall of 2006. Then the condo market collapsed, and poor sales thwarted their efforts. Now they want to build hotel rooms, not condos, but they'll need more time to come up with designs and secure permits.

So developers are asking for a March 2010 start date, something the council appears ready to grant — as long as the property is cleaned up within five months. That would be in time for the city's annual Ironman triathlon.

That means the Spyglass, as well as another smaller building on the property, would have to go. Once they're gone, the city hopes to lease that property for desperately needed beach parking spaces. (Clearwater already leases 103 temporary spaces on part of the 3 acres that at one time included the Days Inn and the Beach Towers.)

"That sounds fair," said the developers' attorney, Ed Armstrong of Clearwater. He added that the project will be smaller and new designs could be turned in within a couple months.

Meanwhile, the Spyglass, which closed a few years ago except to serve as a sales center for the condo project, has about four months left to stand.

"It was a landmark, but like everything else, it goes with progress," Cole said. "Out with the old and in with the new, I guess."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Mike Donila can be reached at mdonila@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater's Spyglass Resort to be demolished 03/31/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 10:04am]
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