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98-year-old building in downtown Clearwater likely to be demolished

CLEARWATER — Dating from 1914, the Pat Lokey building in downtown Clearwater is one of the oldest commercial structures in northern Pinellas County. It housed one of the area's first newspapers.

But it's not going to survive through the end of the year. It's likely to be demolished in December.

The 98-year-old building at the southeast corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue is next door to the historic Capitol Theatre. It was going to be merged into the Capitol during the theater's upcoming renovation and expansion.

Instead, theater officials have decided to knock it down and replace it. They believe it isn't sturdy enough to handle the load that it would need to handle once the revamped theater reopens.

"We're adding much more weight on several levels of what would have been the old Lokey building," said Zev Buffman, CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall, which manages the city-owned Capitol. "My guess is that we'll take it down, and do it in December."

What weight? Well, there's going to be a rooftop terrace with a view on top of that building. There's also going to be a wraparound balcony on the second floor. And inside, they plan to install three old-fashioned VIP theater boxes in the area where the two buildings' walls currently meet.

The Capitol Theatre's renovation will start soon and will take a year. Its seating will grow from 485 to nearly 750.

Contractors have now applied for permission to demolish the Lokey building. The city hasn't yet granted permission, but there's no particular reason why it wouldn't, said Clearwater building official Kevin Garriott.

The Clearwater City Council recently removed a historic designation that it had placed on the building three years ago. That decision cleared the way for the building's demolition and the expansion of the Capitol Theatre.

The building is called the Lokey building because businesswoman Pat Lokey owned a high-end women's clothing shop at that location through the 1990s. The building also housed a business called the Betty Lane Dress Shop for almost 20 years, according to city documents.

It is also called the Clearwater Evening Sun building because its original tenant in 1914 was a newspaper by that name. That paper's editorials are credited with contributing to the separation of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the designation of Clearwater as the county seat in 1917.

But influential Clearwater historian Mike Sanders is not enthralled with the Lokey building's historic importance. He told the City Council that it was originally an unremarkable brick structure with no notable architectural features, and that he believed it could never be restored to its original facade.

A one-story building at 409 Cleveland St., on the other side of the Capitol Theatre, also will be torn down soon. It will be replaced with a two-story building, with its facade blending into the Capitol's exterior.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

98-year-old building in downtown Clearwater likely to be demolished 10/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:46pm]
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