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Gymnastics school explores renting at Clearwater's Harborview Center

City officials are downbeat about the chances of any kind of Harborview Center renaissance.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2009)

City officials are downbeat about the chances of any kind of Harborview Center renaissance.

CLEARWATER — The beleaguered downtown Harborview Center, set for demolition, has encountered a surprising new suitor: an Orlando gymnastics school.

Real estate brokers with Grubb & Ellis asked city officials this week to consider leasing the center to coaches from a "prestigious" school with a "reputation for crafting Olympic champions."

The coaches were interested in opening a new school in North Pinellas County, pulling students from as far as Hillsborough and Pasco counties. The coaches, who would teach children from 3 to 15 years old, are seeking up to 15,000 square feet at an annual rent of up to $105,000, plus operating expenses, brokers Wanda De Boer and John Stoner wrote.

"The high ceiling, open-area nature of Harborview is particularly attractive to them for gymnastic workouts," De Boer and Stoner wrote. The center was considered, they added, "since the Pickles Plus deli lease runs for another decade."

Funny they should bring that up.

Pickles' long-standing lease with the city has in recent months become a sour point of contention, with officials pushing to move the deli elsewhere so they can demolish the emptied Harborview, which costs the city $60,000 a year to maintain. The deli sued Clearwater last month, alleging the city is fencing off entryways and disrupting its business to force them out.

Barring a sudden change of heart, it doesn't look likely that the gymnastics proposal will fly. Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin told the brokers the idea was "extremely unlikely" to be considered. He passed it along to the City Council to see if any of its members would reconsider demolishing the building. By Thursday, none had.

It's not just that the city wants to raze the Harborview, Irwin said. The school would only fill a small fraction of the 143,000-square-foot center. The suggested rent, he said, is too low. And the center would need extensive utility and construction work to provide what the coaches would need.

"It would be economically impractical, even if we were leaving the building open," Irwin said. "It would cost us more to entertain the lease than we would receive from it."

De Boer said the school search was early and would not name the coaches or other venues under consideration, calling the hunt "highly confidential."

"It felt like downtown Clearwater was a good opportunity for them," De Boer said. She could "feel there might be some synergy, that we could bring some life to an area that is in the process of undergoing redevelopment."

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

Gymnastics school explores renting at Clearwater's Harborview Center 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 7:57pm]
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