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St. Luke's eye clinic moves to downtown Clearwater

St. Luke’s Eye Cataract & Laser Institute will occupy the old Webb’s Gentlemen’s Apparel building at 501 S Fort Harrison Ave.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

St. Luke’s Eye Cataract & Laser Institute will occupy the old Webb’s Gentlemen’s Apparel building at 501 S Fort Harrison Ave.

CLEARWATER — A new location for St. Luke's Cataract & Laser Institute is scheduled to open downtown, expanding the eye- and skin-care clinic from its headquarters in Tarpon Springs.

Construction crews are renovating the old Webb's Gentlemen's Apparel building at 501 S Fort Harrison Ave., catty-corner from the Old Pinellas County Courthouse. The office, the clinic's sixth in Tampa Bay, will open next year.

The two-floor clinic will offer LASIK surgery, treatments for cataracts and glaucoma, and full-service dermatology and plastic surgery. It would become one of downtown's few medical centers; most are further south on Fort Harrison Avenue, near the campus of Morton Plant Hospital.

With arched windows and a corner clock tower, the renovated 13,000-square-foot building will match the Mediterranean Revival style, seen locally at the Church of Scientology's downtown Flag Building and Fort Harrison Hotel, the historic post office on Cleveland Street and a Publix on S Fort Harrison.

Webb's Gentlemen's Apparel was a downtown institution for 45 years in its iconic pink building before it closed in 2008. The building also housed law and real estate offices and became known as the Legal Arts Building. In 1989, the corner earned infamy as the scene of the murder of former mayor Alex D. Finch, strangled by a robber in his law office.

The corner has sat mostly unused since Webb's closed. The remaining businesses left earlier this year. A business managed by Dr. Pit Gills, the ophthalmologist son of St. Luke's founder James Gills, bought the land for $1.8 million, property records show.

Pit Gills' company also bought the land next door, the former site of Cigar Central, for $375,000 in February. City planner Scott Kurleman said the clinic would use that space for parking.

Work crews began remodeling the building in March. City plans show a renovation cost of $2.5 million, not including land and demolition, Kurleman said

Besides its sprawling Tarpon Springs campus on U.S. 19, the clinic also runs offices in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Spring Hill and Bayonet Point. Pit Gills lives in a $2 million mansion on the Clearwater beachfront.

City Manager Bill Horne said the clinic would bring to the city a "multiplying effect," drawing clients and patients who may stay downtown to spend money.

"When you get a successful business like that moving into your downtown … it highlights the investment potential," Horne said. "It's a positive thing."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

St. Luke's eye clinic moves to downtown Clearwater 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 7:45pm]
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