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It's a seller's market, AA groups learn

Hoping to lure upscale redevelopment on N Osceola Avenue, the city is preparing to evict the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous from its longtime headquarters on valuable city land near the Seminole Street boat ramp.

Citing the chapter's failure to complete upkeep and repairs required under its $1-per-year lease, City Manager Bill Horne said the organization has until Jan. 31 to find a new home.

"We do intend to reclaim the building," Horne said Friday. "We had forecast that we would eventually get to this point."

For decades, the nonprofit Clearwater Group has leased the building at 712 N Osceola, where it serves hundreds of people during 22 meetings held throughout the week. Members say meetings, which start as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 8 p.m., serve anywhere from 30 to 50 people on any given day.

The size of the group and the frequency of its meetings make sharing a facility, such as a church, virtually impossible, members say. Rent for comparable space runs as high as $1,300 a month, said one member, who fears that a forced move may tear the group apart.

Among the hallmarks of the group are an insistence on anonymity and self-reliance. One member, who declined to be identified, said the Clearwater Group cannot accept help offered from the city to find new headquarters.

Nor can the group take donations, Horne said.

"In effect, they have to pay their own way," he said.

The building is deteriorating, Horne said. And because the city hopes to sell the property soon, it doesn't make sense to force the Clearwater Group to pour money into maintenance. Meanwhile, the city expects a developer to come along within a year to remake the land, Horne said.

Just to the south, a seven-story condominium is under construction at Osceola and Eldridge Street. The $13-million BayView Condominium project is replacing Clearwater Harbor Apartments at 700 N Osceola.

To sell the city building, commissioners would have to declare it surplus. And that can't happen unless the building is empty, Horne said.

Next door, at the city-owned Francis Wilson Playhouse, the Clearwater Players acting troupe also is preparing to move.

The city, Horne said, put the group on notice two years ago that the property would someday be redeveloped. One option for the land, he said, is more parking for the boat ramp.

A spokesman for Clearwater Players could not be reached for comment.

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