Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Talk of hotel on Clearwater Marine Aquarium garage muddies waters

CLEARWATER — Massive downtown parking garage? How about a hotel on top?

That prospect, raised by former Mayor Frank Hibbard among others, has spooked the Church of Scientology, which owns land the city wants for a garage to hold the cars of hundreds of thousands of visitors to a downtown aquarium.

In November, city voters approved a proposal for the city to negotiate a 60-year lease with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which wants to build a 200,000-square-foot downtown facility. But a lease between CMA and the city has yet to be finalized.

Wishing to hammer out the lease on waterfront bluff land where City Hall now stands by early fall, City Manager Bill Horne said he'd prefer to concentrate on location for a garage, not bells and whistles.

Talk of a hotel just gums up the works, he said.

"It's getting in the way of our singular focus about where to site a parking garage," Horne said.

Church leaders oppose a garage with a hotel on top at any of the top three sites in contention — Drew Street across from the library, a county-owned lot next to the church's Flag Building or a CMA-owned parcel next to the church-owned Oak Cove building, Horne said.

They worry that a high-rise multiuse building would overshadow — perhaps literally— important church properties, Horne said.

Hibbard said he agrees finding the right spot for a garage comes first. But, he said, all three choices are prime downtown real estate. And none of them have height restrictions. So getting "highest and best use" for a property just makes sense, he said. A parking garage without a retail and, possibly, a hotel component, doesn't meet that standard, he said.

"To build a one-trick pony is not the best use," Hibbard said.

And an unnamed hotelier has approached the aquarium and expressed interest in building, Hibbard said.

Michael Delk, the city's planning director, said his department hasn't studied the properties individually, but, generally, he said mixed-use downtown is a good thing.

"Generally speaking, that is something we would promote," Delk said.

The church didn't respond to requests for comment.

For months, the saga of where to build a parking garage for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's proposed downtown facility has consumed city planners, aquarium officials, Scientologists and business interests.

The city and aquarium's first choice is a parcel at Drew Street and N Osceola Avenue bought last year by the Church of Scientology.

Efforts by the city to acquire that property peaked in March when church leader David Miscavige called Horne and Mayor George Cretekos to an impromptu meeting at the Fort Harrison Hotel to discuss the garage.

Since then, negotiations have stalled. A suggestion by church representatives that a garage be built on N Garden Avenue across the street from the Bank of America went nowhere.

And, at least from the city's perspective, the clock is ticking. Horne said he would like to start negotiating the lease with the aquarium as soon as possible with the goal of a final agreement by September.

He is losing patience with the slow pace of negotiations with the church over the Drew Street property.

"I've told Ben Shaw (the church representative) that we can't wait until the last minute," Horne said. "I'm going to move."

And moving would likely mean starting more serious talks with the county and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority over the parking lot and bus transfer station across from the Flag Building.

Miscavige has told Horne he didn't want the city to build a garage at that site.

Or it could mean building on the lot owned by CMA next to City Hall, which would throw some serious shade on the Oak Cove building, also an anathema to the church.

Frank Dame, the aquarium's executive vice president, said CMA is open to negotiation on the parcel it owns adjacent to the Oak Cove.

Last fall, when the church bought the Drew Street property for more than $3 million, many observers thought it was a bargaining chip for the Oak Cove land.

But the aquarium is also willing to build a parking garage on its land or sell it off to a developer. With those waterfront views west of Osceola Avenue, a hotel could be an outcome, Dame said.

All of these options strike some as akin to a chess game, but Cretekos has tired of the intrigue.

"Games can be fun, but when it comes to our tax dollars and our public, all of us should sit down and talk to each other, not one up each other," he said.

But Cretekos said the church hasn't reached out to him, which makes it difficult for him to comment on its motives.

"For whatever reason, the church has decided the mayor's opinion isn't important," Cretekos said.

Whether or not a hotel is part of a parking garage, the city and aquarium remain on the same page, Hibbard said.

"There's no rift," he said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

Comments
The St. Petersburg Women’s March: Here’s what you need to know

The St. Petersburg Women’s March: Here’s what you need to know

ST. PETERSBURG — On Sunday afternoon, people will take part in the Women’s March, part of a series of marches taking place this weekend. Here’s what you need to know:When is the Women’s March?The march begins at noon on Sunday, Jan. 21, and a rally w...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Deputies: 18-year-old speeding on U.S. 19 rear-ended car, faces charges of DUI, fleeing scene

PALM HARBOR — A speeding teenager on U.S. 19 refused to stop for deputies and took off, later rear-ending a car and injuring three adults early Sunday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.A little after 1:30 a.m., Kingzig Montan...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

Forecast: Sunny, high of 78 in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — Temperatures should reach the upper 70s on a warm, sunny, mild Sunday, kicking off a mild week in Tampa Bay, forecasters predict. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

A woman sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship from Jacksonville fell from her cabin’s balcony and died Friday.Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen confirmed the death Saturday, saying in a statement that the incident occurred e...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

Record number of inmates died in Florida prisons last year. And they died younger than past years.

More inmates died in Florida prisons last year than in any other year on record, leaving the state scrambling to identify causes and find solutions. The tally, 428 inmate deaths in 2017, was released late Friday by the Florida Department of Correctio...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Leonard Pitts Jr.: One year later.

And here we are, one year later.If you are groping for markers by which to measure how profoundly we have been changed since Inauguration Day, here’s one you might want to consider:In January of 1998, reports surfaced of a sexual affair between Presi...
Published: 01/21/18
Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk. Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us wha...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Florida wins big SEC showdown with Kentucky

Florida wins big SEC showdown with Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jalen Hudson came off the bench to score 17, and Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes contributed clutch baskets down the stretch as Florida rallied to upset No. 18 Kentucky 66-64 Saturday night. "We were able to win it jus...
Published: 01/20/18
Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

Shrine Game journal: USF players’ thoughts are with grieving QB Quinton Flowers

ST. PETERSBURG — USF had expected to have four former players in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, but QB Quinton Flowers had to miss the showcase game after learning that his grandmother had died late last week."I most definitely ...
Published: 01/20/18
Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

Late score gives West victory over East in Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — With less than a week to install a playbook, offenses can have it tough in college showcase games.And for 58 minutes on Saturday in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field, the teams combined for just one offensive touchdown.But...
Published: 01/20/18