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Salvation Army to revamp old hospital

The Salvation Army will be allowed to convert a vacant hospital to a new Center of Hope, including space for social service offices, emergency housing and a medical clinic for pregnant women without insurance.

On Tuesday, the Community Development Board unanimously approved the Salvation Army's plans to transform the defunct Clearwater Community Hospital at the corner of Druid Road and Highland Avenue into a hub of the social service organization's North Pinellas efforts.

But before the decision, about a dozen of the center's future neighbors complained the new center would bring vagrants, drug addicts, crime and other problems into their area.

"I don't want this in my neighborhood," argued one resident, John Tassinari. "They want to bring dope addicts in, bring in all elements of life, bring it into a nice residential area."

Maj. Roy Johnson, who oversees the Salvation Army in North Pinellas, said he didn't want to dismiss the concerns of the residents, but he believes that the new center will not detract from the surrounding neighborhood. If anything, it will taking a vacant building and return it to life.

"I hope they will give us a chance," Johnson said.

He said he expects the new center won't open for up to two years, because the Salvation Army still has to raise money for the project and do extensive renovations.

The Salvation Army plans to spend $2.3-million to renovate the hospital's interior and improve the landscaping on the 7-acre site. Overall, however, there will be few changes to the hospital's exterior,.

Converting the old hospital will more than double the space that the Salvation Army has for its North Pinellas efforts, according to the group's proposal to the city.

Most of the Salvation Army's offices and programs have been located since 1962 on a campus of buildings on the 400 block of Fort Harrison Avenue in downtown Clearwater. But the Salvation Army has been looking for a larger space for more than a year.

In April, the Salvation Army discovered that the old hospital, vacant for two years, was back on the market after another deal to buy the hospital collapsed. The Salvation Army quickly decided to purchase the 92,400-square-foot facility from a company affiliated with HCA _ the Healthcare Co. for a price of $1.5-million.

But before the Salvation Army's plans could go forward, the organization had to get the Community Development Board's approval Tuesday to place a new social services facility in with a neighborhood bordering one side.

Among the programs to be located at the hospital will be expanded emergency housing: eight housing units for people with AIDS, 14 units for families needing emergency shelter and six units for single people trying to make a transition from being homeless.

There will be a new medical clinic for pre- and post-natal care for pregnant women and space for the Salvation Army's administrative offices.

In addition, the hospital will become the home of the Salvation Army's program to provide probation officers to misdemeanor offenders and also the AIDS Community Project of Tampa Bay, one of the oldest groups in the county that assists people with AIDS.

The "Christmas Joy" toy and food drive and the Salvation Army's growing Hispanic outreach programs will have dedicated space for their efforts inside the hospital for the first time.

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