CLEARWATER - The St. Vincent de Paul Society is selling its downtown Clearwater thrift store and plans to move to another location, although it isn't sure where yet.
Clearwater's city government is buying the thrift store property so it can merge it with the city's large, vacant Prospect Lake site, which officials have been trying to see developed for a decade.
The city envisions a major facelift for the area between downtown's Prospect Lake and Cleveland Street. It hopes to someday lure a developer to build hundreds of new apartments and a row of small shops on the land, most of which used to be occupied by the Dimmitt Chevrolet dealership.
But the site has an irregular shape. Officials say that adding the 1-acre St. Vincent de Paul property will make the Prospect Lake development site 20 percent bigger and will give it more of a square shape, making it more feasible to build on.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society has operated its thrift store at the corner of Cleveland Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue for 15 years. When the shop at this location opened in 1995, it was twice the size of its predecessor, which sat for 25 years along S Fort Harrison Avenue.
The society plans to move its store sometime in the next year. In the meantime, the city will lease the property to the charity for $1 for a year.
"We're doing okay here. Sales have been the same and maybe even up," said thrift store manager Steven Girardi. "But long term, Cleveland Street is not the answer for us."
Why not? It's because Clearwater will soon extend its downtown streetscaping project eastward along Cleveland Street, turning it from a four-lane street into a heavily landscaped two-lane street with a median. This is being done to foster development. But the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store sells a lot of furniture, and it doesn't want to be part of a pedestrian district.
Clearwater's City Council recently voted to buy the St. Vincent property for $587,000. That figure is midway between two appraisals that priced the property at $575,000 and $600,000.
The land had been listed for sale at $660,000.
"We would likely have not been able to afford this property in better times," Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin told the council.
To buy the land, Clearwater is using money from property taxes generated from downtown, its Community Redevelopment Area. By law, the city gets to keep county property taxes from that area. The city is supposed to use this money to help get development projects off the ground.
The City Council's vote was unanimous. The city has already spent plenty of time and money on the Prospect Lake site over the years, and council members thought this new purchase was worth it to make the development site more attractive to builders.
"If this was a new, standalone parcel, I'd probably be having heartburn and taking a pass," said council member Paul Gibson, who's tired of seeing no progress at Prospect Lake. "I'd like to see that parcel developed in my lifetime. I think this will help."
Prospect Lake has been a bust so far, partly because of the lousy economy."
Clearwater's initial plan to build what was supposed to be called "Mediterranean Village" first surfaced in 1999. The idea was to clean up a rundown property and create a catalyst for downtown development.
The city struck a deal with Sarasota developer Bruce Balk, who was going to pay $1.3 million for the land and build 100 townhomes surrounding the lake.
But countless setbacks stalled the project, and Balk eventually pulled out after building a cramped compound of only 15 townhomes that backed up directly against the Cleveland Street sidewalk, with windowless walls facing the street.
A second development company later pulled out because it couldn't get financing to build 250 rental units there. City officials say more developers have shown interest in the site, but banks aren't lending them money at this point.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.