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Harborview rehab: $3.8M+

The Harborview Center will be a topic of discussion by the City Council tonight. City Manager Bill Horne says keeping the center as is will buy time.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The Harborview Center will be a topic of discussion by the City Council tonight. City Manager Bill Horne says keeping the center as is will buy time.

CLEARWATER — The cost to keep the Harborview Center alive for another decade is in, and it isn't cheap: $3.8 million.

That's what consultants estimate downtown's defunct convention center would need in repairs to its roof, electrical system and the rest of the building to stay open for business long term.

That's not counting the paint, furniture and other things the city's 50-year-old behemoth would need to catch up with modern standards. Those would cost another $6 million or so, consultants said. And all for a building that a few years back was destined for the wrecking ball.

The new estimates, part of a study by Tampa architects Long & Associates, throw a wet blanket onto any hopes of keeping the center kicking into old age.

They also could hand ammunition to those who want to knock the Harborview down and refresh the Clearwater Bluff with an expansion of Coachman Park.

But no one on the City Council, which is slated to discuss the study tonight, seems ready to fork over the cash, even on the possibility that a company could want to put down roots.

"If you think that's a good investment," council member Paul Gibson said, "I have some more investments for you."

The $35,000 study was commissioned by city officials late last year after businesses began asking about moving into the waterfront white elephant.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, a movie exhibit, on the center's second floor in December. And leaders of the Armed Forces Military Museum have considered moving to the center since last fall.

They couldn't stay for long, though, without the center seeing serious work. Plumbing, elevators and electrical systems are old. Emergency generators need replacing. Outer walls and building joints are cracked. A new roof alone would cost $800,000.

Council members said they don't want to pay $4 million just to help the center limp along, though they would like to give it a few more years. City Manager Bill Horne said keeping the Harborview as is would cost nothing but would give the city more time to figure out its replacement.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said: "Harborview's going to go away. … It needs to go away. But two things need to happen before you demolish Harborview. You've got to have a plan of what you want to put there, and you've got to have the money to pay for it. Right now we don't have either."

Even if the city were to shift course now, the wrecking ball will need to wait. The aquarium signed a 30-month lease at the center late last year, and the armed forces museum has hinted that it might move in soon, too.

Museum officials sent invites Wednesday for a press conference next week that will include a "major announcement," including a note that directors are interested in "development of a permanent site." Messages left with the museum late Wednesday were not returned.

Some on the council questioned whether setting the Harborview's demolition date for within a few years could hamper its moneymaking potential.

Member John Doran mused why anyone would want to invest in a center storefront for only a few years.

"We might be able to hold (the Harborview) together with spit and baling wire and keep it going for a shorter period of time," Doran said, "but what good does that do?"

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

Harborview rehab: $3.8M+ 02/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 7:29pm]
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