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Rundown Clearwater area to get townhomes

Clearwater leaders hope to turn a $700,000 loan into a $7-million affordable housing development inside one of the city's most drug-ridden, prostitution-filled areas.

The move, they say, should help revitalize the East Gateway, a main passage to the downtown. But the outcome won't be immediate.

"To fix that area, you basically have to go block by block and make incremental improvements," Mayor Frank Hibbard said. "Once other property owners and developers see what's happening, they'll be more willing to stick their toe in the water."

The 175-acre East Gateway has been a blight on Clearwater for more than a decade, city officials say. It's depressing and dilapidated and 77 percent of the housing are rentals.

City leaders have created a five-year plan to rehabilitate the area, which is bordered by Court and Cleveland streets and Missouri and Highland avenues. A main component to success is affordable housing.

That's where South Port Financial Services comes in.

"We're very concerned that Pinellas County is overlooking a lot of itself by not looking at doing these projects that are close to employment areas, especially with the gas and transportation problems," said Peter Leach, senior vice president of the company, which has done similar projects in New Jersey and New York.

South Port Financial Services several years ago built 10 townhouses on Ewing Street, but those sold at market value.

The Clearwater-based company now plans to buy Verizon's vacant 2-acre parking lot on Drew Street between N Betty Lane and Fredrica Drive. The city has agreed to put up $700,000 in federal funding it received for such projects.

If the development goes as planned, the city's loan becomes a grant. If not, the city gets the land.

The developer plans to build 36 townhomes, a pool, Jacuzzi, clubhouse and exercise room. The homes, which include three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and two-car garages, are expected to sell for about $165,000.

The total project, called Country Club Homes, will cost about $7-million to build.

"We think home ownership will help stabilize the area," said Geri Lopez, the city's economic development director.

Plus, she said, it's necessary to clean up the area before some of the problems spill into other parts of Clearwater, which some nearby residents say is already happening.

The developer expects to close on the land in the next few weeks. Then site plans are due by the end of October, and development must start by Dec. 31, 2009.

Leach said that because the market is in a slump, his company decided on developing something more affordable to lure buyers.

Since fall 2006, the city has engaged residents and businesses, seeking input to find out just what they need to clean up the East Gateway and make it safer. The city's economic and development department's five-year plan pinpointed these key issues: safety, appearance, business environment, economic growth and housing and integrating the Hispanic community.

East Gateway by the numbers

175

acres

3,000



area population

49

percent of the population that is white

38

percent of the population that is Hispanic

10

percent of the population that is black

77

percent of the houses that are rentals

Revitalization efforts

In 2005, the East Gateway area generated more calls to police than any other part of the city. It's not the city's most troublesome spot anymore, but close to it. Police still routinely investigate burglaries, muggings, rapes and assaults. But the area has pockets of stability. Here's a snapshot:

• Police calls: Most occur in the heart of the East Gateway, and where much of the activity occurs is near where Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Cleveland Street are split by Evergreen Avenue.

• Hotels: The area is dotted with rundown motels where visitors mostly pay by the week.

• Businesses: Although the area is distressed, many businesses here are thriving, including an exotic auto dealer, a Mexican restaurant, an ice cream shop, a saloon and organic health food store and restaurant.

>>If you go

Meeting Tuesday

Clearwater officials will host a community meeting about the East Gateway neighborhood for residents, business owners and others at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Clearwater Main Library, 100 N Osceola Ave. The meeting will focus on the East Gateway revitalization effort, efforts to address neighborhood issues and ways for residents and businesses to get involved. Part of the meeting also will concern safety, security and summer recreational opportunities. Call (727) 562-4047.

Rundown Clearwater area to get townhomes 06/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 11:57am]
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