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Developers change, Clearwater's view doesn't

(ran State / Suncoast edition of Metro & State)

A new owner hasn't swayed city officials on a controversial Clearwater Beach hotel project that city planners believe is oversized.

The 14-story, 425-unit hotel now proposed by Tampa entrepreneur Dr. Kiran C. Patel is still too massive, even with enigmatic beach hotelier Tony Markopoulos out of the deal, planners said.

Markopoulos sold out to Patel for $40-million last Friday. Before the Community Development Board on Tuesday, Patel found out the attitudes in City Hall won't change just because the owners did.

"Life's a risk," said Patel's attorney Patrick M. O'Connor, who just entered development negotiations that are now seven months old. "We're still working with the city. We're going to continue to work with the city. We both want to build a world-class resort. We have the same goal."

The difference is, how to get there.

Like Markopoulos, whose business sense had been known to ruffle feathers, Patel is keen to develop a grand resort just south of the roundabout. Patel has adopted Markopoulos' vision, a Mediterranean-inspired convention hotel that stretches 150 feet high and more than a football field along S Gulfview Boulevard.

The plans call for 350 hotel rooms and 75 condominiums.

The city says the plans are too much.

Last month, planning director Cyndi Tarapani said the building didn't match the redevelopment code adopted for the beach.

But the city's planning board disagreed, clearing a major hurdle for the developer. However, more hurdles remain.

The City Council must approve a development agreement, agree to vacate city right of way and accept a land swap with the developer before construction can begin.

Tuesday, the same city planning board agreed to reconsider its August approval of the project's site plan because it did not consider the council's future considerations.

"It gives the illusion that the site plan is ready to get a permit tomorrow," Tarapani said. "That's not the case."

Tarapani said she will not ask the board to reconsider the site plan itself, though city planners think the project doesn't meet the city's beach design guidelines.

Board members will hear the city's request at their Oct. 19 meeting.

City planners also said Tuesday they oppose a pedestrian overpass that would link the hotel to the beach across S Gulfview Boulevard.

The overpass was approved in the site plan, but Tarapani said she fears it would lead to other bridge proposals along Gulfview. Another proposed development, a 250-room Hyatt, will have a pedestrian bridge, Tarapani said, but that project includes 400 public parking spaces.

Patel's project calls for only 15 public spaces.

Development board member J.B. Johnson, said the staff's opinion is unfair, especially since it at one time supported the overpass.

"It doesn't seem right," Johnson said.

The development will be back before the Community Development Board next month and then will move to the City Council for a series of approvals. Tarapani said city staff will not support the development as currently designed.

O'Connor said Patel knows there's a long fight ahead. The noted philanthropist and cardiologist is ready, O'Connor said.

"He's looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work," O'Connor said. "He knows it won't be easy. But he's an optimistic person and he knows it can come together."


OWNER: Dr. Kiran C. Patel

ARCHITECT: Morris Architects, Orlando

LOCATION: South of the roundabout between Coronado Drive and S Gulfview Boulevard.

LAND: 2.7 acres now occupied by the Day's Inn, Beach Towers, Spy Glass and Golden Beach motels

+ 14 stories

+ 150 feet tall

+ 350 hotel rooms

+ 75 condominiums

+ 37,000 square feet of meeting and retail space

+ 620 parking spaces

+ 15 public parking spaces

HIGHLIGHTS: Project, as currently proposed, includes two fifth-floor pools, an outdoor cafe along S Gulfview Boulevard, valet garage service, automobile elevator lifts, and a pedestrian bridge to the beach.