CLEARWATER — An employment agency wants to set up shop in the East Gateway district near downtown, but neighbors are against it. They don't want more unemployed people congregating in an area that already has a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen.
That's the conundrum facing Clearwater's Community Development Board today. The board must decide whether to allow WorkNet Pinellas, a career training center, to move into a vacant building at 1315 Cleveland St. The building has sat empty since a fire damaged it in June 2009.
The development board is deciding the matter because there are questions about whether WorkNet's relocation to this spot would fit Clearwater's plans for the neighborhood. The city's East Gateway development plan discourages more social service agencies from locating there because several already operate in the district.
East Gateway community members have worked for years to revitalize the neighborhood east of downtown, which houses a number of cheap motels and day labor businesses. They complain that the nearby CHIP homeless shelter and the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen attract vagrants. "You're bringing people that are unemployed to this area," property owner Gilbert Jannelli said at a previous zoning hearing.
However, the building's owner, Nila Shah, said Monday that the building currently attracts homeless people because it's empty. "We find sleeping bags and empty beer bottles," she said.
WorkNet says the new office would not attract loitering vagrants. The services to be offered there, such as resume writing classes and career counseling, would be "invitation only," said WorkNet official Michele Pineda.
WorkNet provides job training to the unemployed and attempts to hook up job seekers with employers. It has five locations around Pinellas County.
City officials are recommending that the board approve WorkNet's relocation.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.