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Clearwater residents say knock the Harborview Center down

CLEARWATER — Some on the City Council are rethinking the Harborview Center's demolition.

Some in the city definitely aren't.

They want city leaders to stick to their word and tear down the defunct convention center with its gray sea of parking spaces. In its place they'd like to see an expanded Coachman Park, a large waterfront park that could become the centerpiece of downtown.

It's a movement that seems to have grown with news of talks between Mayor Frank Hibbard and the Armed Forces Military Museum.

If the Largo museum moved into the Harborview, joining a Clearwater Marine Aquarium movie tour there, it could set back plans for the building's demolition — potentially for good.

That's a scary thought for Howard Warshauer, vice chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. In February, he helped found the Coachman Park Enhancement Committee to push for the parkland as an economic generator and salve for downtown.

"We have these beautiful assets: the view of the waterfront and this beautiful bluff, two things you don't have in very many cities," Warshauer said. "But right now it's blocked 100 percent by this big ugly box."

Warshauer, who was a city commissioner for seven years in West Palm Beach, thinks clearing away the Harborview would open up waterfront and parkland views on Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, enticing residents and return visitors instead of the tourists more attracted by a tour or museum.

City Manager Bill Horne agreed that the Harborview still needs to come down, saying "there's no value" in keeping it. But he would like to keep the site open for developers to build something that could actively try to draw people downtown and add to the city's tax base.

Expanding the park, he said, would make passersby too accustomed to the Osceola Avenue waterfront view, making it harder to win support for a new development.

"We never really entertained (the idea of) an open bluff," Horne said. "The bluff, with public structures on it, doesn't generate revenue."

Though the council voted two years ago to demolish the Harborview, there remains no clear consensus on what to do next. Mayor Frank Hibbard has said expanding Coachman Park could attract more homeless people. Council member Bill Jonson has opposed the Harborview as an obstructive white elephant, likening it to the Berlin Wall.

But of the half-dozen residents who e-mailed City Hall in the last week, there was unanimous opposition to the Harborview's chance at new life. They called keeping the building up a huge mistake and a waste of tax money.

One of those residents, Chet Winston, an Army veteran who moved to Clearwater Beach 11 years ago, said in an interview that new parkland could create an environment similar to St. Petersburg's Beach Drive. There, North Straub Park and the open bayfront have helped lead a boom in chic eateries and a revival of the downtown waterfront.

"The potential (here) is enormous if you get someone in there with a little bit of vision," Winston said.

That vision, he said, starts with taking down the Harborview.

"How do you eat an elephant?" he said. "One bite at a time."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Clearwater residents say knock the Harborview Center down 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 1:58pm]
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