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CLEARWATER'S MENUS CHANGING

Along downtown's struggling main street, restaurants suddenly are coming and going at a breakneck pace.

Even as new ones are opening in anticipation of a downtown renaissance, others have run out of money and shut their doors for good.

The newcomers are clustered in the 500 block of Cleveland Street, which has a new high-end Mexican restaurant as well as a branch of a frozen yogurt chain that has attracted a steady following in Tampa. A Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins franchise will appear soon.

However, in the blocks just to the east and west of that, time has run out for places such as the Rabbit Hole Cafe, La Rose Subs & Salads, and Tangerine Mediterranean.

The city aims to make the Cleveland Street District a gathering place where people will socialize, shop and dine at sidewalk cafes.

That's a tall order. But the city recently finished a $10-million makeover of the street's landscaping and it intends to hold special events to draw people downtown. To recruit businesses, it recently decided to start handing out grants to pay for work on buildings' interiors - up to $35,000 for retail shops and up to $50,000 for restaurants. No grants have been awarded yet.

"We're targeting sit-down restaurants that are open for lunch and dinner," said Geri Campos Lopez, Clearwater's economic development director. "Our focus is, what are those elements that we need to create a destination downtown? It was clear that we needed to focus on restaurants first and then the retail options for Cleveland Street."

The newcomers are Rio Grande Mexican Grille, 528 Cleveland; Caliyogurt, 519 Cleveland; and Greektown Grille, 1230 Cleveland. Coming in November: Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins, 534 Cleveland, and Cafe Supreme, at Cleveland and Myrtle streets.

CLEARWATER

Love triangle blamed in boyfriend's slaying

Early Saturday morning, on the doorstep of the white house at the dead end of Friend Avenue, a brazen slaying took place.

Sunday night, Clearwater police arrested Gary E. Averill Jr. on a charge of first-degree murder. He's being held in the Pinellas County Jail without bail.

According to Clearwater police, Averill shot Michael Harris, his ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend, at close range with four shots from a handgun at 4:36 a.m. Then he took off.

Police said Harris and girlfriend Barbara Hall heard a knock at the door of the house at 1364 Friend Ave.

Hall answered the door and a masked man ordered her to the ground.

The masked man pounded on the door until Harris arrived.

When Harris came to the door, Averill fired four shots into the 28-year-old, killing him, police said.

Averill, of no fixed address, ran to a getaway car, where he was helped by one or more accomplices, police said.

Police spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said the motive for the shooting appeared to be a love triangle. Averill said he was told by Hall that Harris was abusing children in the home, Castelli said.

Jonathan Abel, Times staff writer

PALM HARBOR

$855,700 for injury in fall through floor

A jury awarded $855,700 on Friday to a man who fell partly through a rotted bathroom floor at the Landings at Boot Ranch.

A minute after the verdict, Joe Borda, managing partner of the company that owns the complex, walked up to the victim and said, "So sorry."

And then Mitch Espat, the attorney who represented Borda's company, bent over and hugged the man, who was in a motorized wheelchair.

Espat said he made the gesture to William David Sandler because "I'm a human being first."

"What happened to Mr. Sandler was terrible," Espat said. Borda's company admitted liability at the outset of this week's trial, but the case moved forward because "we couldn't agree on the amount," Espat said.

The case dates back to a 2006 accident in which Sandler's leg punched through the floor of his first-floor apartment, in the complex west of East Lake Road and north of Tampa Road. News reports at the time pointed out that it was the second time in five months that someone had fallen into a floor at the complex.

Curtis Krueger, Times staff writer

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