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Clearwater Beach hotel proposal gets a makeover from developer

CLEARWATER — The doctor-turned-developer leading a long-stalled beach resort project is taking another shot at construction while betting the city millions he'll begin building by 2015.

Eight years after paying $40 million for one of the priciest land purchases in Pinellas County history, cardiologist and high-profile Tampa philanthropist Kiran Patel has submitted new ideas for what to build on nearly 3 acres of Clearwater Beach waterfront.

Patel still plans to build two 15-story towers at 100 Coronado Drive, just south of the beach roundabout. But rather than devoting nearly half of the 450 units to timeshare condos, every room will be rented as a hotel unit.

The newly configured 600,000-square-foot project also will have slimmer towers and smaller rooms. That will provide wider views of the gulf and less of the dreaded canyon effect.

Once known as the $250 million Clearwater Beach Resort & Hotel, the megaproject's new name, design and price tag still remain a mystery. With no solid financing, brand or management team, the start date for construction could be the biggest question of all.

But Patel has agreed to an expensive reassurance that he's devoted to the project's success. Beginning next month, he will pay $1 million a year into an escrow account the city gets to keep if construction doesn't start by February 2015.

It's an expensive gamble, but City Council members who have long slammed Patel's inexperience and delays now seem ready to him give another extension — his third in nearly a decade.

The council will vote tonight on the extension and changing Patel's development agreement, the first of several steps toward approving the new plans. Council members are expected to give Patel their support tonight.

"This is the best-looking project we've seen in 10 years," Mayor Frank Hibbard said Monday. "We don't want him to fail. But should he fail, we could have as much as $3 million in our coffers."

Hints of an improving economy and the project's new focus on hotel units, Hibbard said, are good signs. Patel's partnership with developer Bill West, whose downtown St. Petersburg condo projects Parkshore Plaza and Signature Place have now sold out, also boost Hibbard's confidence.

But council member Paul Gibson, who has dubbed Patel's project the state's most expensive parking lot, said he expected the new plans would lead to more of the same dysfunction.

"We are very much in the same position as two years ago. We have nothing, and we're being asked to grant another extension," Gibson said Monday. "We were hoodwinked last time by the dog-and-pony show."

Patel's property has been a beach parking lot while awaiting the start of construction.

If the council rejects Patel's extension, his project would lose 250 rooms of additional density approved by the city — a potentially crippling blow. City leaders, too, have counted on that hotel-room density pool for their long-range growth plan, called "Beach by Design."

Though plans aren't finalized, Patel estimated the project would create 700 jobs in design and construction and 250 other jobs once the hotel opens for business. But whether the project gets to that point remains to be seen.

On Monday, Gibson said, "I have no confidence in Patel, based on his track record."

Hibbard replied, "Then you'll be $3 million richer."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater Beach hotel proposal gets a makeover from developer 01/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 7:58pm]
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