CLEARWATER — The unfinished condominium tower, once scheduled to open four years ago, looms bare-boned over downtown.
Four-foot weeds poke through the drooping, chain-link fence surrounding The Strand on Cleveland Street. Portable toilets, unused by builders since construction halted in January, remain on a job site littered with McDonald's bags and beer cans.
The local phone number listed online has been disconnected. And The Strand, which Miami-based owner Espacio USA still bills as "upscale living in one of the most desirable locations in Florida," is officially an abandoned building in the eyes of city officials.
"This is a total embarrassment," said Wayne Carothers, a Clearwater Code Enforcement Board member at a meeting in City Hall on Wednesday. "And it's not only an embarrassment to the city — it's a lie to the people who live around the area."
"People are breaking into the property, hanging out, drinking," said another board member, Mike Riordon. "You don't even have to climb the fence to go in. You just walk through a hole."
Conversion work began in 2007 on the tower formerly known as the 1100 Building, which housed offices. A marketing campaign of billboards and web ads promised saunas, a yoga room, an art gallery, a two-story parking garage and 27 unique condominium floor plans.
When construction stalled, developers blamed a weak economy. Now neighbors, whose tax dollars recently paid to revamp the Cleveland Street corridor, say the skeletal structure overshadows those costly improvements.
Tampa lawyer Katherine O'Donniley, whose firm represents the The Strand's owner, requested on behalf of her client another year to "get things going" and fix code violations before city fines start. Given the state of the housing market, she said, any flexibility is appreciated.
Board members, after debating for about 25 minutes, decided the project's history — delay after delay after delay — called for a shorter time frame. That way, the Miami builders would take a Clearwater eyesore seriously.
The final decision: Espacio USA must bring the tower up to standard by April 24 or thereafter pay $250 a day. And during the recommenced construction period, the area must be mown, clean and safe.
The city will closely monitor progress.
"It's been abandoned for years," Riordon said, "and I don't want to have to look at this for another year."
Danielle Paquette can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.