Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Development desperately needed on Clearwater's east gateway

Clearwater officials are encouraged by news there may be a buyer for an abandoned 15-story concrete eyesore looming over downtown's east end. Now they need to encourage the deal to go through, and being open to forgiving tens of thousands of dollars in fines that have accumulated on the property could be a good place to start.

A Chicago investment firm with deep pockets is considering buying the structure and finishing it as condos or rental apartments. Formerly known as the 1100 Building, the structure housed federal government and corporate offices and was a hub of activity on east Cleveland Street until it was purchased in 2004 by an American subsidiary of the Spanish company Espacio and local developer Guy Bonneville.

They stripped off the outside skin of the building, leaving 15 floors of bare concrete and steel, and began work on a ground-level parking garage. They prematurely named the building the Strand and advertised it as a luxury condominium complex. But the partners ended up in a legal dispute and the only construction completed was the sales center across the street, now also abandoned. All work on the project stopped five years ago.

Still owned by Espacio, the ugly structure stands like a beacon advertising the continued struggles of Clearwater's so-called East Gateway.

It's not the first time that efforts to attract development to the east end to reverse the decline of commercial properties, neighborhoods and property values have hit a stumbling block. Clearwater removed a former Montgomery Ward and City Hall annex from the southwest corner of Missouri Avenue and Cleveland Street in 1996 in hopes of attracting investors.

IMRglobal, an information technology company, built its new international headquarters on the 15-acre site, lavishly landscaping the campus with magnolias, Canary Island date palms and Hong Kong orchid trees and promising that 1,000 employees eventually would work there. But within two years the company had been sold to a Canadian firm, CGI, which pulled out of the location a year later.

In 2004, FrankCrum, a thriving family-owned company that provides human resources services for corporate clients, bought the sprawling campus and has maintained it in top-notch condition. But even that attractive example of corporate responsibility hasn't been enough to bring about a renaissance in the East Gateway. It is clear that many such examples will be needed to spark significant change.

It is important for the city to eliminate barriers to renewal of the east end. The Strand, which is less than a block west of FrankCrum, is a barrier. While the potential buyer of the Strand is in a due diligence period prior to committing to purchasing the property, Clearwater officials should pursue any gesture that would help convince the investment firm it would find government cooperation and a hearty welcome here.

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