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Developer sues Clearwater to stop demolition of unfinished Strand tower

CLEARWATER — It was supposed to be a luxurious condominium complex on the outskirts of downtown, with 88 units and a concierge, pool and spa.

Instead, the unfinished Strand condominium tower, at 1100 Cleveland St., has become a city eyesore. The 15-story concrete structure is visible from a mile away.

Clearwater declared the structure unsafe this year and notified its developer the property would need to be sold, developed or demolished.

At the end of June, the city issued a demolition order.

Now, the development firm behind the project is suing the city, claiming Clearwater didn't give enough notice before issuing its demolition order. The structure is owned by Espacio USA, a Miami-based subsidiary of a Spanish company.

The complaint, which was filed two weeks ago, also says the demolition order has no legal basis.

The lawsuit details a monthslong battle between the developer and the city about what to do with the structure. One part of the federal lawsuit says the city targeted the developer irrationally and arbitrarily. The developer is asking for $3 million in damages.

Additionally, the complaint says the developer still hopes to sell the property.

Tampa attorney Eric Page is representing the company in the lawsuit. Page said the developer hopes the court says the demolition order was improper.

"My client has a building that is structurally sound," he said. Because the property is structurally secure, he said, the city should not require demolition.

When Espacio USA bought the structure for $5.7 million in 2004, it was a mostly vacant office building. The company had plans to bring luxury condos to Cleveland Street along with shops and offices.

Work stopped when the recession hit and never started again.

"We have an unsafe structure, and it's a pretty large one. It's not going to be allowed to just stay there in its current condition," City Manager Bill Horne told the Times in May. "The status quo cannot continue to exist, and that's why a teardown becomes part of the conversation."

Adding to the safety concerns is the property's reputation — in the past, it has been known as a hangout for high school students and an illegal shelter for homeless people. It was declared secure in July, according to an email sent by Clearwater building official Kevin Garriott.

"There are dangerous electrical situations in there. There's rebar sticking up — all kinds of hazards," Garriott told the Times in May. "People have been living in there on all levels, climbing as high as the 15th floor."

Assistant City Attorney Matthew Smith said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Contact Ayana Stewart at astewart@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.

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