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Vote on Maas site rekindles old group

An old political action group has been resurrected to urge residents to vote against selling the former Maas Brothers building to the Florida Gulf Coast Art Center.

Save The Bayfront, a political action committee that was inactive for about nine years, has mailed out a two-page, newspaper-size flier to "various citizens of Clearwater," committee chairman Fred Thomas said. Thomas is a Clearwater businessman, founder of Pinch-A-Penney pool supply company and incumbent president of the Clearwater Beach Association.

The blue, white and green flier urges residents to vote against the Nov. 3 referendum authorizing the city to sell the Maas Brothers building to the art center for $750,000.

Thomas said he reactivated the 10-year-old committee because he thinks voters should have more than one choice about what to do with the property.

"If we don't vote "no' (on the referendum) we lose it (the property) forever and we don't get to use any options," he said. "We believe that the citizens have a right to choose."

The flier asks people to choose one of five options for what to do with the Maas Brothers property. Thomas said that the results of the poll will be released after the November election.

The Save The Bayfront flier says that it is a bad deal for the city to sell the land to the art center and claims that the deal will cost the city more than $4-million.

The city paid $1.9-million for the Maas Brothers property and has agreed to tear down the old department store at an undetermined cost. The flier lists a demolition cost of $656,365.

City Commissioner Art Deegan, who is in favor of the sale, disputed the group's numbers. Deegan said the city is selling only about half the site _ about $1-million worth _ to the art center. He also said that

he doesn't think demolition costs will be higher than $500,000.

Plus, Deegan said, the city is putting restrictions on the purchase. For instance, the art center can't sell the land to anybody else, and "If they go belly up, the city gets it back at no cost."

Besides, Deegan said, he thinks the art center will improve downtown.

"What we are putting down there is an attraction that will bring people to downtown," he said. "I don't believe that we are giving away the bluff."

Thomas said if the voters want an art center on the land, that is fine, but that they should be given more options.

"We are striving to put all the information in front of the people," he said.

But Thomas was not as forthcoming with information about Save The Bayfront. He would not say how many fliers were mailed out, nor would he say how many people are in the group.

"That is private," he said. "We have got a small group that we think will grow rather rapidly. We are in the recruiting stage."

Thomas would not say whether the group plans additional mailings.

"We are going to do what is necessary," he said. "It's time once and for all to settle the bayfront issue."

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