Meet the 5 bidders who want to develop Clearwater’s downtown bluff

Details of the plans are not public. The backgrounds of the firms give some clues.
Five developers responded to the city's request for proposals to build residential, retail and hotel projects on three city-owned sites on the downtown waterfront. [ City of Clearwater ]
Five developers responded to the city's request for proposals to build residential, retail and hotel projects on three city-owned sites on the downtown waterfront. [ City of Clearwater ] [ City of Clearwater ]
Published April 17, 2021|Updated April 17, 2021

CLEARWATER — When the three-month window closed Monday for proposals to build on the downtown waterfront, city officials released only the five bidders’ names.

Details of what they proposed, and how much they are offering for the land, are confidential until a staff committee makes recommendations to the City Council or on May 12, 30 days after bidding closed — whichever comes first.

The city asked for residential, hotel and retail projects on three bluff sites: a 1.4-acre lot at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue that housed the now-demolished Harborview Center; the 2.6-acre vacant City Hall on Osceola Avenue; and an adjacent 1.2-acre Pierce Street lot.

The three properties border the city-owned 22-acre waterfront where officials expect to break ground in May on Imagine Clearwater, a $64 million park with an amphitheater and canopy over 4,000 seats, lawn, garden, trail, playground and plaza.

The most recent rendering of the proposed Imagine Clearwater park. This image does not include the retail, residential and hotel projects proposed for three city-owned parcels that border the park.
The most recent rendering of the proposed Imagine Clearwater park. This image does not include the retail, residential and hotel projects proposed for three city-owned parcels that border the park. [ City of Clearwater ]

The park transformation and the vision for the surrounding three sites make up the city’s most aggressive effort in decades to bring people and businesses to its struggling downtown.

City officials could select one master developer or hire multiple firms. The sale or lease of the Harborview site and City Hall (but not the Pierce Street lot) requires voter approval.

Here’s what we know about the companies that submitted bids:

Elevate Clearwater

Daniels Ikajevs is one of downtown’s largest individual landlords as owner of the ground floor retail in the Water’s Edge condo, storefronts on the 500 block of Cleveland Street and a tower that houses City Hall and other tenants. In 2019, Ikajevs opened The Ring Workspaces in his One Clearwater Tower, a co-working space centered on health.

He’s now part of the Elevate Clearwater team focused on renewable energy opportunities on the bluff and tax incentives from the Opportunity Zone that includes the waterfront.

Elevate’s lead partner Sixty West is a Missouri-based firm that has raised over $1 billion of tax equity for housing, retail and hotel projects nationwide. The team also includes Opp Zone Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Clearwater resident Edmon Rakipi.

Elevate’s team also includes Renewable Energy Alternatives and KD Keller, led by Ken Stoltenberg, who has built multiple projects in Tampa’s Channel District.

Ikajevs and Rakipi declined to provide specifics about Elevate’s plan for the bluff until the proposals become public.

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However, their team submitted an informal concept to the city last year. For the Harborview site, the 2020 concept included a 162-room, music-themed hotel with ground-floor retail, a pool, event space and solar panels. The concept also included a 225-room hotel and condo project with ground-floor retail for the former City Hall site and a 240-unit multifamily project with retail targeted toward a grocery store for the Pierce Street parcel.

Office America Group

This boutique real estate company is led by Miami developers Ricardo Hernandez, Reinaldo Padron and Isaac Peckel.

Hernandez said he bid on just one of the three bluff sites, the 1.2-acre Pierce Street lot, and is proposing apartments with ground-floor retail and amenities for the public.

Hernandez has 25 years of experience in the industry and is also a multi-disciplinary real estate expert for ONE Commercial Real Estate.

The Lake Worth Beach Community Redevelopment Agency last year awarded Office America Group a bid to build a $30 million mixed-use project with 127 units, 7,500 square feet of retail and 30,000 square feet of public green space called Deco Green. Hernandez said the firm also has three additional projects pending between Miami and Boston.

Office America Group worked with the Martin Architectural Group, Andres Montero Landscape Architecture and T&G Constructors on its Clearwater proposal.

“The bluff properties are amazing,” Hernandez said. “Amazing location, amazing views, amazing amenities in the area, it’s very close to the beach and I think if they choose the right project, they are going to get a lot of activity in downtown.”

City Center Development Group

Craig Govan, who leads City Center Development Group, declined to discuss specifics of what he’s envisioning for the downtown waterfront until the city makes the proposals public.

But on Wednesday, Toronto-based NAK Design Strategies announced on Facebook it worked with Orlando’s Eleven18 Architecture on the design for Govan’s bluff proposal: “a mix of new hotel, retail and dining space along with 200-plus workforce multifamily units across the three sites.”

Now a Jupiter resident, Govan grew up on Long Bow Lane in Clearwater. After graduating from the University of Florida’s School of Building Construction, he returned to Clearwater and ran a realty and property management company from 1985 to 1992.

After obtaining a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994, he has led the development of a series of master-planned business parks, residential and big box developments across Florida.

He is part of a group building the $100 million Apopka City Center, which is slated to include multi-family and retail components on 35 acres. The group completed a 110-room Hilton Garden Inn for the project in July.

Church of Scientology

It’s unclear whether the Church of Scientology wants to build on one, two or all three bluff sites. Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to two emails or a phone message seeking comment.

However, the church has pursued the 1.2-acre Pierce Street parcel for years. In early 2017, when the Clearwater Marine Aquarium owned the vacant lot, city officials talked publicly about buying the land to include it in the waterfront redevelopment plan.

In March 2017, Scientology leader David Miscavige met with council members and offered to spend $50 million to revitalize downtown by recruiting high-end retail to empty storefronts, renovating Cleveland Street facades and building an entertainment complex with actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise.

Miscavige’s offer hinged on the city allowing Scientology to buy the Pierce Street lot. When the city offered the aquarium $4.25 million for the parcel, Miscavige offered the aquarium $15 million.

Miscavige said he needed the lot to build a swimming pool and other amenities for parishioners staying in the church’s adjacent Oak Cove religious retreat.

In April 2017, the council voted unanimously to buy the Pierce Street lot from the aquarium for $4.25 million. Miscavige then cut all communication with the city.

Over the next three years, limited liability companies tied to Scientology bought nearly 100 commercial properties within walking distance of the downtown waterfront, where the city was planning its Imagine Clearwater park transformation.

Today, more than half of the 100 storefronts and lots sit vacant.

In a meeting with city manager Bill Horne in January 2020, Miscavige reiterated his desire to acquire the Pierce Street lot to build a swimming pool and other amenities for church members.

SROA Capital

This West Palm Beach company describes itself as a private equity real estate and technology firm with a focus on self-storage facilities. Company representatives, including CEO Benjamin Macfarland, did not respond to multiple phone calls and an email requesting comment.

SROA Capital, which operates the Storage Rentals of America and Storage Zone self-storage brands, has 170 self-storage facilities and $1 billion in assets across the United States, according to a news release.

However, it’s unclear what other companies are involved in its proposal to build on Clearwater’s bluff.