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Revamped pavilion will bloom in spring

The bright orange fence and winding wire barriers still ward visitors away from the South Beach Pavilion. But after months of political controversy and its first closing in decades, the beachfront landmark is set to open again by late February.

New pavilion operators Steve and Lisa Chandler began their 10-year lease on the city-owned property Saturday, the first change in the pavilion's management in 35 years. The Chandlers said they are hurrying to update the pavilion before spring.

For now, patrons can rent only beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas. Not even the bathrooms are open.

But by the time the Chandlers finish, they will have given the pavilion a modern makeover.

The baby-blue paint job is on the way out, Lisa Chandler said, and the side facing South Gulfview Boulevard eventually will get a facelift.

In addition, what used to be the gift shop will become an air-conditioned coffee-dessert shop, and the concession stand will add items such as salads and grouper sandwiches to the traditional fare of hotdogs and hamburgers.

The menu and prices will resemble the Chandlers' other beach concession stand north of Pier 60, where a hotdog sells for $2.99 plus tax, and a grouper sandwich with fries is $6.99.

Other changes are in the works, but details have not been worked out. Architects are expected to finish plans soon for the pavilion's interior, Lisa Chandler said, and the building's name will change, although its new moniker is under wraps.

"This place will not look the same when we're done," Steve Chandler said. "On the beach, time takes its toll."

Like all new restaurants, the pavilion also faces city and state approvals.

The Chandlers' New Year's Day occupation of the pavilion also ended months of controversy surrounding the building's lease. From 1965 until last year, the family of City Council member Hoyt Hamilton ran the pavilion. When the lease came up for renewal last year, some questioned whether Hamilton's connections might give his family an unfair edge.

In May, Hamilton's family botched a bid for the renewed lease, offering more money than they intended. The city then stopped the bidding, closed the pavilion in October, and, after another bid process, granted the lease to the Chandlers in December.

The Chandlers are paying $2.125-million over 10 years to operate the concession.

"I think they'll do a good job," Hamilton said. "Regular visitors who came annually will be glad to see it reopened. But I wouldn't be surprised to see people coming up after a while and asking, "Where are the Hamiltons?' "

The pavilion's new image might be an adjustment for some, especially in Clearwater, where, according to the 2000 Census, the average adult was 7 years old when the stand opened. Many people have grown up or flown down expecting the same fixture on the south beach, and the Chandlers said they understand some people might question the change.

But for now, Steve Chandler said the biggest question he has faced since moving in has been "Where's the bathroom?"

The answer, for the record, is a couple of hundred yards down the beach.