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Candidates critical of East End project

The East End redevelopment project is not going to revive the faltering downtown area a mile away, two commission candidates and many business people agree.

The city spent about $1.5-million on the East End project last year, compiling more than 20 acres near the City Hall annex at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue. Officials hope a developer will build an upscale shopping and entertainment district there, and they believe if the project is successful, redevelopment will spread west to the traditional downtown core.

But some people don't think it will happen.

Seat 5 candidate Pete Caffentzis told about 35 members of the Downtown Clearwater Association on Tuesday that he believes the East End project is a dead end.

"I am not convinced that it is going to benefit Cleveland Street," Caffentzis said. He asked people who thought the project would benefit downtown to raise their hands.

No one did.

Caffentzis said he would like to see the City Commission be more aggressive toward redeveloping downtown.

"Have someone come in and find points of agreement (among business owners)," he said, "and start building on those points of agreement."

Seat 4 candidate Art Deegan said he thought downtown might be best served by using the city's redevelopment money to lure business back with incentives such as low-interest loans, paid moving costs or free rent for a month. He wants to see measurable goals established for improvement in the traditional downtown area before trying to revitalize beyond it.

Deegan's opponent, J. B. Johnson, was not as vocal during the meeting. He simply said that he favors a joint project involving private business, residents and the city, but using the developer's money.

Later he explained that he believes the East End project could help solve downtown's problems. "Anything you do from that point west will be an improvement to downtown," he said Wednesday.

Incumbent Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald, who is running for re-election to Seat 5, was not at the meeting Tuesday. Fitzgerald, who has supported the East End project, was in Tallahassee with other city officials lobbying legislators this week.