Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

New penthouse plans in downtown Clearwater fuel Tom Cruise, Scientology rumors

CLEARWATER — Three years into construction on the 10-story SkyView condo tower in the heart of downtown, plans for the project have been revised to accommodate one tenant with luxurious taste.

The building was originally proposed as 51 two-bedroom units, but contractors filed paper work with the city on Sept. 9 to turn the top three floors into a lavish penthouse complete with a gym, theater, pool, garden, game room, four bedrooms and a loft. The permit application also includes plans for a private garage with a car elevator on the second floor with a corridor leading to a wing with a flight simulator, office space and sports storage area.

The $3 million penthouse addition is under review with city planners and would leave the long-vacant SkyView tower at 400 Cleveland St., across from the Capitol Theatre, with 42 units, according to the permit application.

The architectural changes, clearly geared toward a wealthy buyer, have again fueled one of Clearwater's longest-running rumors that actor and member of the Church of Scientology Tom Cruise is looking to settle near the church's international spiritual headquarters downtown.

After Tony Ortega, who runs a blog critical of Scientology, reported Cruise's alleged interest in the SkyView's penthouse last month, the story was picked up worldwide from the New York Post to the British Daily Mail.

Developer Moises Agami, a Scientologist from Mexico City, declined to comment about the construction on Monday when reached by phone. He did not answer questions via email about Cruise's alleged ties or specific details on the project.

However he responded that the project will be completed "in 2017" and feature two- to five-bedroom units with 10-foot ceilings and a first floor that will offer upscale retail and restaurant space.

Both City Manager Bill Horne and Mayor George Cretekos acknowledged they heard the Cruise reports, but could not confirm the connection. Cretekos said if the penthouse is being built to accommodate such a high-profile celebrity, he hopes Cruise's presence would accelerate the downtown revitalization efforts being led by the city.

"Hopefully, if he becomes a resident of Clearwater, he will want to invest in Clearwater and help us bring some retail downtown through the connections they may have," Cretekos said.

Representatives with the SkyView's architectural firm Gomez Vasquez International and contractor Wichman Construction of Tampa Bay did not respond to questions about when construction will be completed on the tower. The original completion date of mid 2014 was pushed to January 2016 before being again delayed.

Clearwater assistant building official Dana Root said the city also does not have an estimated completion date. The building is still an active construction site with scaffolding and exposed beams outside of the frame.

The former AmSouth bank building, originally constructed in 1965, sat empty and vacant for years before Agami proposed his SkyView project around 2012. Before that, the building was one component of Mexican developer and fellow Scientologist Elias Jafif's $200 million plan to revitalize downtown that never took off.

But the SkyView project comes as the city is working to lure residential projects to the downtown core to in turn attract more retail, restaurants and shops. The strategy was one recommended in 2014 by Urban Land Institute consultants as a way to revitalize the business district.

Another recommendation the consultants pitched to the city: communicate better with Scientology officials as both the city and the church try to expand their footprints downtown.

"We believe the project marks an important milestone in the city of Clearwater's exciting and ambitious vision to enhance the downtown area," Agami said in an email. "Clearwater has enormous potential, and we hope that the SkyView inspires others to join in creating an even more beautiful city."

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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