CLEARWATER — Once mostly a car lot, the land around Prospect Lake on the eastern edge of downtown may be on the way to reaching its potential.
City economic development officials on Friday selected Prospect Real Estate Group, an Orlando area firm, to build a mix of apartments and retail space on the almost 7-acre city-owned parcel, saying its proposal offered the best mix for an area of the city still lacking living space and a vibrant commercial sector.
The 15,000 square feet of retail space was key, said Geraldine Campos Lopez, the city's economic development and housing director.
"That's what we had asked for," she said. "We wanted to continue the activity along Cleveland Street."
The proposal also calls for 240 apartments renting between $1,125 and $1,325 a month for one- and two-bedroom units.
Another plus is that Prospect Real Estate offered to pay about $1.1 million in anticipated impact fees and to start construction within a year, Lopez said.
The five-member selection committee voted unanimously to recommend Prospect Real Estate's bid. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency will take up the issue at its June 18 meeting.
Prospect beat out three competitors from Atlanta, Tampa and Clearwater for what the Longwood company estimates will be a $34 million project.
Frank Tetel, vice president for underwriting and acquisitions for Prospect, said his firm was delighted to have been chosen.
The group has developed Mandalay on 4th and Waterside at Coquina Key, both in St. Petersburg, according to its website.
"We look forward to working with the city of Clearwater," he said.
Downtown boosters cheered the news.
"We'll do all we can to support the effort. The decision to have residential downtown is probably the most important decision that they'll make this year," said Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership.
Retail isn't easy to pull off in this economy, he said.
"We'll see how that goes," Sturtevant said, adding that he's optimistic about the project, especially if it encourages other developers to build housing downtown.
The group is experienced in constructing residential and retail in redeveloping areas, and it appears the company has the money to do the job, Lopez said.
"Their financials looked good," she said.
The losing bids included visions for relocating City Hall to the site, building all high-end apartments without retail, and using a hotel and restaurant to anchor a mix of senior housing and retail.
The city has been trying to redevelop the site since 1999, but the city's mayor said he wants to think bigger.
Mayor George Cretekos said he'll be briefed by the staff about the project soon, but thinks a broader approach to development focusing on more than one piece of land at a time would serve the city better.
"I still want to have a discussion on this piecemeal approach," Cretekos said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.