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Clearwater to shutter Harborview Center on Feb. 28

CLEARWATER — The city on Monday set an official date for closing the Harborview Center — Feb. 28.

Clearwater is shutting the makeshift convention center because it can no longer afford to subsidize its operations. But the city is waiting until the end of February because the center has several events booked during the fall and winter, and it costs less to subsidize the building during its busiest time.

Upcoming events at the Harborview Center include: the Taste of Clearwater on Sept. 15; the Festival of Trees, held each year in November; and the Florida Huddle, an annual tourism industry gathering that rotates around the state each January.

Officials haven't decided whether to demolish the building, mothball it or find another use for it. The center's main tenant, a Stein Mart, is closing this month and is rapidly emptying of merchandise. The other tenant, the Pickles Plus Too deli, is in talks with the city because its lease extends another 11 years.

In the meantime, city parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar had a message for anyone planning a holiday party or event: "The Harborview Center is still open for business," he said. "We're more than happy to talk about available dates."

It has cost Clearwater about $350,000 a year to subsidize the center. Dunbar said it would only cost $72,500 to keep the doors open another five months after the city's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

A couple of other developments at the City Council's work session Monday involved downtown parking, and fuel prices at Clearwater's Municipal Marina.

Charging more for gas: The city marina operates as a self-supporting enterprise fund, so it's supposed to be paid for by user fees, not tax dollars. But it's running a deficit and needs a $230,000 loan from the city's general fund to balance its books, said city marine and aviation director Bill Morris.

The main reason for that is the marina gives boaters a fuel discount, charging 45 cents less per gallon than area market rates, Morris said.

"That means all the citizens are subsidizing the rates, and I don't think that's right," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.

The City Council will vote Thursday night on whether to charge market rates for fuel at the marina. Council members are leaning toward doing so, although they know they'll hear opposition from boaters.

Downtown parking: An updated parking study found that there's plenty of parking in downtown Clearwater, unless office buildings near Cleveland and Garden streets reach full occupancy over the next 10 years.

But council members noted that many people aren't aware that the parking is there, or they're not willing to walk two or three blocks from a parking garage to a store or restaurant. Among other solutions, the council discussed putting up more signs to direct motorists to available parking.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater to shutter Harborview Center on Feb. 28 08/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 8:16pm]
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