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Clearwater leaders still undecided about future of Harborview Center

CLEARWATER — The big question now among city leaders: Just how rickety is the old Harborview Center?

After a study last month revealed that it would cost at least $4 million to keep the defunct shopping and convention center standing for another decade, City Council members are split on what they should expect of the 50-year-old white elephant.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said he would like the center to stay open for a few more years and "limp into the finish line" with as few costly repairs as possible. "I'm talking about spitballs and bubble gum here," he said Thursday.

That would leave the center available for use by organizations like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Largo's Armed Forces Military Museum, which have shown interest in staying in the downtown center. The aquarium opened Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, a movie exhibit, on the center's second floor in December.

On Thursday, the aquarium paid the city a reimbursement check for Harborview fixes, bringing the total repaid to $29,000 — about $1 for each visitor since the exhibit opened in December.

But some on the council doubt the long-troublesome center could last even a few more years. Mayor-elect George Cretekos called the center a "money pit," and council member John Doran pointed out that the center's innards were scraped clean after the decision was made to close it and an auction of equipment and fixtures was held in 2010.

"It wasn't just that we locked the door," Doran said. "We ripped the guts out of that place."

Save for council member Bill Jonson, who supports demolishing the center and expanding Coachman Park, no one on the council seems to have an idea about what should replace the center.

But once they hear of a new interest, members said, they will be ready to call in the wreckers.

"It's a dysfunctional floor plan, in the wrong location. It's an accident of history," council member Paul Gibson said. "There will be a time for it to go, and I hope it's soon."

• • •

Also at Thursday's meeting, council members unanimously approved the city's new "doggie dining" ordinance and lengthening of the Clearwater Air Park's landing strip.

Restaurateurs who pay the city $75 for a permit can now allow customers to bring dogs into outdoor seating areas. The ordinance also provides a few rules: Tables must be stocked with hand sanitizer, and dogs must be kept off tables and chairs.

The airpark now plans to extend the runway's northern end by 800 feet, giving pilots more room to land. The state will pay 80 percent of the $1.8 million project, which could begin within six months.

Neighbors of the small airport, opened in 1939, worried the extension could bring more noise. But council members sided with pilots and airpark officials who said a longer landing strip would be safer and make landings quieter for nearby residents.

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

Clearwater leaders still undecided about future of Harborview Center 02/03/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2012 7:40pm]

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