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Clearwater to decide how much to bid for Maas site

City commissioners will decide today how much they want to bid on the downtown Maas Brothers property, trying to get a bid in before a Friday deadline. Commissioners also will be meeting as the Clearwater Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in case they decide the CRA should bid instead of the City Commission.

City Manager Michael Wright said he will suggest that the CRA make the bid so that the city won't have to hold a referendum if it is decided that the land later should be sold to developers instead of used as parkland.

Meanwhile, a Clearwater optometrist said Wednesday that he also has a bid on the property, but declined to say how much or what he wanted to do with it. Federated Department Stores, which owns Maas Brothers, has been taking bids on the property since April, when the company announced it was leaving downtown Clearwater.

Gilbert Jannelli, whose optometry office is at 909 S Fort Harrison Ave., said he wants to see downtown prosper.

"Right now store owners are crying the blues," he said. "I'd like to see them be successful. It takes the right kind of chemistry and the right kind of development project to ignite downtown redevelopment."

Jannelli said he doesn't want to be competing with the city, but that's "free enterprise and the American way, and I love free enterprise."

Jannelli and the city have been in competition before when, in 1984, he and city officials went to court over property he owned on Cleveland Street. The city wanted to condemn the land and take it from him for $650,000, but he wanted $1.2-million.

Eventually, he accepted the city's offer of $958,000 for the property, which then was called Clearwater Square. It now is SunBank, the greenish-blue, high-rise, glass building.

Wright said he had heard Jannelli was going to bid, but he called Federated Department Stores on Wednesday morning and heard the bid had not yet been received.

"As of 11:30 this morning, they hadn't received it," Wright said.

Jannelli said he sent in the bid quite some time ago.

Mike McCormick with Federated's real estate division said Monday that he neither could confirm nor deny that Jannelli's bid had arrived. In fact, he said, he could not say how many bids, if any, there had been.

The informal bid deadline is Friday, and commissioners are meeting today so they can meet the deadline, Wright said.

"Frankly, I want to bid at the last possible minute," Wright said. "I'd just as soon wait as long as we can. I don't want to give the competition any help."

Wright said he will send the bid by overnight delivery so it will reach Federated's Ohio offices by Friday.

Federated is in bankruptcy reorganization, so any bid the company accepts is subject to bankruptcy court approval. Once the court has it, McCormick said, there is a 50-day period in which more bids can be submitted.

Wright said he knew of no other bidders. Those he was concerned about before _ Calvary Baptist Church and the Church of Scientology _ have said they are not interested in the property.

The city obtained two appraisals of the Maas Brothers site that value the property at $3-million to $3.5-million.

The building, which has structural problems, has been described as useless. Wright said the city would not keep the building if it buys the property. The building also has an asbestos problem that would cost $300,000 to remove whether the building is torn down or remodeled. Demolition of the building will cost about $350,000.

Wright said he sees two good uses for the land. One, he said, is an extension of Coachman Park and the other is for redevelopment.