CLEARWATER — A Latvian real estate developer has been buying up vacant storefronts in downtown Clearwater, and he's making plans to fill them.
Daniels Ikajevs, who lives in a penthouse in the Water's Edge condominium tower overlooking Clearwater Harbor, recently bought the tower's 10,000-square-foot ground-floor retail space for $875,000. That space has been empty for five years, but Ikajevs is announcing his first tenant: an Italian gelato maker.
"They're doing a build-out right now, and they plan to open in about 10 weeks," Ikajevs said Thursday.
The gelato shop will also serve cappuccino, espresso, coffee and Italian pastries. It hopes to attract customers who will be attending shows at the nearby Capitol Theatre, which is slated to reopen in late fall after a renovation. It also hopes to draw patrons from Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, which is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's movie-prop exhibit in the Harborview Center across Cleveland Street.
Ikajevs also recently bought some long-vacant property on what is perhaps the most desolate stretch of Cleveland Street — the south side of the 500 block, between Fort Harrison and Garden avenues.
He has five storefronts there, at 525, 527, 529, 531 and 533 Cleveland, the former home of Peter Gillham's Nutrition Center. The location is east of the downtown Starbucks, across the street from downtown's Dunkin Donuts, and just west of the Atrium building.
Ikajevs intends to renovate his Cleveland Street property and market it to prospective tenants in time for the Capitol Theatre's reopening.
"It's going to need a little bit of renovation," he said. "The previous owner did not take good care of it."
Originally from Latvia, a small country in northern Europe that used to be part of the Soviet Union, Ikajevs says he has lived in this area for 13 years. Because he's a foreigner who lives in downtown Clearwater and is investing in properties near the Church of Scientology's facilities, people often assume he's a Scientologist. He's not, he said, but he gets asked that question on a fairly regular basis.
Ikajevs conducted a survey of his fellow Water's Edge residents, asking what they most wanted on the tower's ground floor.
One of the most popular choices was an ice cream shop of some kind, so that led to the gelato business.
"This is a good sign," said Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. "When Daniels bought the retail space, he had a vision for how it would interact not only with the residents of Water's Edge, but also the community."
Two other Water's Edge storefronts along Osceola Avenue have yet to be leased.
Part of Ikajevs' 10,000-square-foot purchase in Water's Edge is a 4,500-square-foot space along the tower's driveway on the south side next to Clearwater City Hall. That could house a 300-seat restaurant, but it will likely remain vacant for the time being. Potential tenants are waiting to see what will happen with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's proposal to move to the City Hall site.
"That's a big commitment for a restaurant operator right now. They want to see more traffic," Ikajevs said. "At this point we're holding on, just seeing where this is going to take us."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.