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The task of making over Maas Brothers

The Maas Brothers Task Force gets down to business next week. The citizens group appointed by the Clearwater City Commission to consider uses of that choice bayfront property once occupied by a Maas department store has been listening to the public. "Now it's our turn to talk," task force chairman Ed Mazur said Friday.

Task force members had been asked to keep their own views to themselves so public creativity would not be stifled. But now they will let their imagination juices flow.

Asked if he had a feel for which way the discussion might go, Ed said, "It's going to go long."

The task force meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday in the main library downtown is open to the public, but only to listen. They had their chance to speak at two public hearings.

Most of the debate undoubtedly will center on the building and the land under it _ in other words, the property facing Osceola Avenue. This is where opinions vary on whether it should be parkland, a public community center or a private commercial venture. The consensus both among task force members and the public appears to be turning the lower or western part of the property into an extension of Coachman Park.

Whether the entire tract or just the lower portion becomes parkland, I think the park should extend right to the water's edge. In other words, close that north-south portion of Drew Street. The east-west portion alongside Coachman Park would have to remain open to allow access to the Scientology buildings and the ferry dock.

A waterfront park should abut the water, right?

Clearwater city officials don't seem to have a problem with the idea, pointing out that it would reduce from three to two the streets funneling traffic onto Memorial Causeway.

The city owns property at Drew and Osceola, now leased to Lee Arnold for parking. Part of that could be used for turn lanes to accommodate beach-bound traffic turning from Drew left onto Osceola. Likewise, if the existing Maas building comes down, right-turn lanes from Osceola onto Cleveland Street could be constructed.

The task force hopes to have its recommendations ready for the City Commission in May.

No parking

Some locals figured, "Hey, we (the public) own the Maas property now so we can park there for free. Why feed the meters in the adjoining lot?"

They figured wrong _ and were ticketed by police.

When the city borrowed money to build its downtown parking garages, it pledged parking meter revenue and also pledged not to interfere with those revenue producers by offering free parking.

So City Manager Mike Wright realized he had to install meters on the Maas lot, put up barricades or post "No Parking" signs. He chose the last option as the least objectionable and, after some complaints that the "No Parking" signs were not prominent enough, addressed that issue.

The parking ban applies Monday through Friday.

Not for sale

One of the Clearwater City Commission candidates has been telling people that Wright announced this week that the Clearwater City Hall Annex is for sale and already listed with a real estate firm.

That didn't make sense since the city has bought land near the annex to create a 22-acre tract large enough to interest potential developers. Selling the annex property would be counter-productive.

Indeed, all of this land, including the annex, may someday be sold or leased to developers, but not now.

I called Wright and he confirmed that.

The people dead-set against this proposal, the so-called East End Project, are on a roll.