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Townhomes to rise on Fort Harrison

First, a Publix filled the remnants of a long-gone downtown car dealership. Then work started on a bank.

Now, a 45-unit townhome project will bolster the transformation of S Fort Harrison Avenue, a downtown gateway that has already seen marked change.

The Townhomes of Harbor Oaks will rise south of the supermarket and around two other proposed developments.

The $10-million project would be the area's first new residential project, across from the historic homes in the Harbor Oaks neighborhood.

The developer, GWI Investments, said previous downtown investments laid the foundation for the plan.

The townhomes will be three stories, range from 1,600 to 2,100 square feet and back up to the Pinellas Trail. Nearly 70 percent of the homes are already spoken for, said Greg Iglehart, president of GWI. Construction is set to begin near the end of this year.

Units will sell for about $280,000 to $350,000.

"I don't know if this area will become Clearwater's Hyde Park," said council member Frank Hibbard, who lives in the Harbor Oaks neighborhood and has watched the evolution. "But it definitely has some of the same characteristics. It has all the makings of a renaissance."

The townhomes will take the place of efficiencies crowded on 2.6 acres south of Druid Road near Jasmine Way. The project will match the feel of the Publix development, with orange-tiled roofs and Mediterranean facades. It will have brick streets, a pool and two European-style courtyards.

"We just love the location," said Iglehart, 42, who has built in neighborhoods across Florida, including Celebration in Orlando and Westchase in Hillsborough County. "There's a lot of momentum in the area, and it's gathering steam."

Clearwater developer Jim White started the Fort Harrison rebirth three years ago when he bought 8 acres of a former car dealership from Larry Dimmitt Sr. for a Publix and shopping complex.

A SouthTrust Bank branch is now being built next door.

AmSouth Bank plans to build a branch at the northeast corner of Druid Road and Fort Harrison, just south of the Publix. The Alabama bank bought the land this year from Dimmitt for $3-million.

North of the Publix complex, across Turner Street, a Safety Harbor developer plans to break ground in November on a 14,000-square-foot retail center anchored by a Washington Mutual.

By probably 2006, a three-block stretch at downtown's southern gateway will have been completely made over.

"When I first got here, they had wild pigs running around the streets," said Dimmitt, 89, who owned all of the redevelopment sites except for the townhome location. "Now look at how things have changed."

The latest improvements started with the Publix, which many thought couldn't succeed downtown.

"Publix, they're happy as a bug in a rug," Dimmitt said. "Look what's coming in and around them. Housewives walk in for their bananas and raisin bread and all that stuff."

Along with Iglehart's project, a 48-unit gated condominium complex is scheduled along Myrtle Avenue near Turner Street, and it would back up to the Pinellas Trail from the east. Units in that project, Old Clearwater City Flats, would cost from $259,900 to $299,900.

Mark Klein, a commercial real estate agent with Klein & Heuchan Inc. Realtors, who marketed Dimmitt's properties, said city leaders helped drive the redevelopment. Klein said he spent close to 10 years trying to find the right investors for Dimmitt's land.

"A lot of it was fueled by the city wanting to see something happen and being willing to work on changes," Klein said. "They wanted to create an urban environment. Seems they might get just that."

City officials approached GWI in 2002 to gauge the firm's interest in developing downtown. Iglehart said he and his partner, Scott Doster, looked at several potential sites and decided the location south of Druid was the best match.

The townhome project is next to one of the city's most expensive neighborhoods and borders other urban renewal, Iglehart said.

"Our experience has been there's a big wave back to the city, back to the town core," Iglehart said. "We want to be at the front end of that wave."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 445-4160 or asharockmansptimes.com.

The Townhomes of Harbor Oaks will have two to three bedrooms in three stories and cost about $280,000 to $350,000. They will replace efficiencies crowded on 2.6 acres south of Publix, and will offer courtyards, a pool and access to the Pinellas Trail.

The townhomes will border one of Clearwater's most expensive neighborhoods and other urban renewal. City officials approached the developers in 2002 to gauge their interest in downtown.

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