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Software company wants Calvary land

A Palm Harbor-based software company, SCC Soft Computer, is negotiating to buy Calvary Baptist Church's historic downtown property in a bid to relocate its corporate headquarters.

On Friday, SCC founder and chief executive Gilbert Hakim and his brother Jean Hakim, the company's president, met with city officials to discuss including City Hall in their plans. City Hall sits between Calvary's sanctuary and other church property on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

City Manager Bill Horne said Monday that SCC wants to relocate its corporate headquarters to S Osceola Avenue, a move that would bring 500 high-paying, high-tech jobs to the city's struggling downtown. The company's offices are on U.S. 19, south of Alderman Road.

"They've outgrown their current location and they want to come down this way," Horne said.

SCC representatives did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Besides new corporate headquarters, Horne said SCC's tentative plan is to build condominiums on the site, which is considered by most city leaders as the linchpin for downtown redevelopment.

On Monday, city commissioners said they were eager to lure 500 new employees and residential development downtown. But they stopped short of endorsing the proposal, citing questions about the location.

"I'd like to have some kind of interaction with the Harborview Center and Coachman Park," Commissioner Bill Jonson said. "A corporate headquarters that will be just used during the day seems a little bit inconsistent with the strategy to create a downtown destination."

Jonson and Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton questioned whether the vacant CGI campus at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue might make a better home for SCC.

"When I think of the bluff and what it can be," Hamilton said, "somebody's corporate headquarters is not what I'm envisioning."

Said Commissioner Frank Hibbard: "I think we're always looking for companies with high-paying jobs. . . . I just hope that we don't get ahead of ourselves. I think we need to be careful and make sure that it's a win-win for everybody."

Mayor Brian Aungst said a corporate headquarters may be more palatable than condominiums to voters because it would draw business and people downtown.

"It's a philosophical question," he said, adding later: "People don't seem as passionate about that location as they do about Harborview."

Clearwater officials have agreed to sell City Hall if the right deal comes along, but any sale would have to be approved by voters. Historically, that prospect has been daunting to developers, Horne said.

"They're all scared of the referendum," he said. "The question is, can they reasonably do something and not have to worry about a referendum?"

In addition, any large-scale development downtown will have to contend with finding parking for its employees.

"If anybody comes downtown, the first thing they talk about is parking," Horne said. That's an issue that city officials look at in determining whether they can help a developer. But, he said, the city has already committed to other expensive endeavors such as luring a movie theater downtown and making streetscape improvements. Doing something for SCC might require shifting priorities.

"I'm not really sure how all of this is going to sort out," Horne said.

Calvary Baptist spokesman Skip Dvornick declined Monday to discuss negotiations.

It is difficult "to do business with confidentiality being the watchword," he said, adding later: "Things are just so interesting."

Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater lawyer who specializes in zoning and land use issues, confirmed Monday that he represents SCC but declined to discuss specifics.

"There are a lot of moving parts here," he said. "We're just trying to move it along in an orderly fashion."

Last fall, the Hakims were part of the investment group fronted by Abdi Boozar-Jomehri that bid $14.75-million for the Calvary property. That ambitious proposal to build condominiums and retail shops on the downtown waterfront appeared dead when the two sides landed more than $3-million apart on price.

Boozar-Jomehri, who owns Pilot Construction in Safety Harbor and is married to Mahshid Arasteh, the city's public works administrator, is no longer involved, according to Horne.

In late 2002, officials from SCC, which develops and services software for the health care industry, said the company was running out of space and announced a possible move to Holiday in Pasco County.

_ Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrellsptimes.com.

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