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Fort Harrison Avenue shows city's success

It seems that nearly every day there is an announcement of another new development project in Clearwater. It is now possible to look a few years down the road and see that whole sections of the city that have long been blighted may be transformed.

One of those areas is the Fort Harrison Avenue corridor south of downtown Clearwater.

For years, that corridor has shown its age, with vacant, weed-filled lots and old _ and sometimes poorly maintained _ buildings the rule rather than the exception.

The problem was especially pronounced on the east side of Fort Harrison, since the upscale Harbor Oaks historic district and new construction by growing Morton Plant Hospital provided some bright spots on the west side.

The decision by Publix to locate a supermarket on Fort Harrison on the former Dimmitt car dealership property was the pioneering first step toward changing the corridor's future. As one developer put it in a Times story this week, "There's a lot of momentum in the area, and it's gathering steam."

A bank is under construction on the edge of the Publix parking lot. And now a 45-unit townhome project is scheduled to begin construction later this year across Fort Harrison from Harbor Oaks. The $10-million, Mediterranean-style project will have three-story buildings and will back up to the Pinellas Trail, and is certain to appeal to downtown workers and employees of the many medical facilities in the area.

Another bank is planned on Fort Harrison in that immediate area. And on the immediate north side of the Publix center, a developer plans to start construction in November on a 14,000-square-foot retail center.

While these developers have gone out on a limb to build in a redevelopment area, credit goes to city officials who envisioned a different future for the Fort Harrison area south of downtown and sold the idea to the development community.

They thought of that corridor as an extension of downtown and imagined it as a multiuse area where people could live, work and shop.

In fact, it was the city that approached GWI Investments, the company planning to build the townhome project, and asked whether it would be interested in developing in the Fort Harrison area. The company's principals listened, took a look and found they were interested.

The city's planning and salesmanship are convincing other investors that Clearwater is a market they can't afford to overlook. City officials deserve congratulations for those successes.

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