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Is this the right beach vision?

Dr. Kiran C. Patel says he has a vision for the $40-million worth of aging hotel properties he purchased Sept. 17 on Clearwater Beach's S Gulfview Boulevard.

Unfortunately, it is exactly the same vision that the previous owner, Tony Markopoulos, struggled to persuade the city and community to accept. And just like Markopoulos, Patel believes his vision is 20-20.

Markopoulos' dream of a 14-story, 350-room resort hotel solidly filling the length of an area now occupied by four motels has been called "overwhelming" and "a monstrosity" by some Clearwater residents.

Patel, who said he fell in love with the architect's colorful rendering of the proposed resort and with the site facing the sunsets, calls the project "majestic," "a signature building" and a future "landmark for Clearwater."

After Clearwater's Community Development Board approved Markopoulos' site plan for the resort last month, Patel was eager to lay his money down, even though the price for the property went up after that vote. So he paid $40-million, a number that has left experienced beach developers slack-jawed. And in taking over the property, Patel, a Tampa cardiologist-turned-entrepreneur, also inherits the battle that loomed for Markopoulos.

The Community Development Board, composed of citizen appointees, approved Markopoulos' plan over the strenuous objections of the city's planning staff, but that was not the biggest hurdle. Construction can't proceed until the City Council approves a development agreement with Patel. And early indications are that several of the City Council's five members are reluctant to give the project a thumbs-up.

Their concerns are the same ones voiced by the city's professional planners:

They contend the massive building violates city standards requiring some openness above the 100-foot mark. They say the resort would be an overwhelming, sky-blocking presence on the waterfront, especially when viewed from the east.

They fear the location of the hotel's main entrance on the north end closest to Pier 60, combined with the proposed system of parking cars in the interior parking garage via valet-operated car elevators, would create congestion around the hotel entrance and backups into the nearby beach roundabout, especially when events like weddings and conventions bring many guests at the same time. If cars can't move in the roundabout, there is gridlock on the beach and Memorial Causeway.

After first supporting a proposal for a pedestrian bridge over S Gulfview linking the resort to the sand beach, the city has withdrawn its support. It fears having to grant every other developer of S Gulfview property the same sort of bridge.

Patel believes traffic congestion will not be a problem around the hotel, but he has agreed to hire an outside consultant to study the car elevator and traffic issues. He says a pedestrian bridge is the most logical way to get people safely from the hotel to the beach without interfering with traffic.

He finds the arguments about the mass of the proposed hotel "illogical." The mass is already there, he says, in the form of the four old motels he bought: Day's Inn, Beach Towers, Spy Glass and Golden Beach. While the new resort would be all in one building and taller, it would not block any more view of the water from ground level than those motels do now, he said.

Patel is a caring and well-known philanthropist, and he views his $100-million resort plan as something like philanthropy for Clearwater, creating new jobs, extra parking and lots of fun for well-to-do visitors to Clearwater Beach. He is excited about it, and believes people aren't being rational when they oppose such a spectacular project.

Yet Patel admitted in a recent interview that he knew nothing about Clearwater or its redevelopment controversies when he bought the property. Neither had he spoken with any city officials about the project or their concerns. And his experience in real estate, he said, is "short" and "painful." He has no experience building or operating hotels.

Patel should keep in mind his lack of experience and his dearth of knowledge about the Clearwater community as he approaches city officials for approvals in the weeks to come. They do know the community and its sensitivities about beach redevelopment. They are doing their job when they insist that the building comply with codes and, especially, when they express concerns about the very real possibility that the hotel's entrance location and car elevators could create traffic problems near the roundabout.

City officials are eager to see a fine resort built on S Gulfview, but they should demand that it be the right project for the location and the community.

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