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New chapter looming for downtown Clearwater's abandoned Strand building

The nearly $7 million sale of the abandoned condo tower on Clearwater’s Cleveland Street is set to close May 18.
The nearly $7 million sale of the abandoned condo tower on Clearwater’s Cleveland Street is set to close May 18.
Published Feb. 4, 2016

CLEARWATER — There may be hope for Clearwater's tallest eyesore.

Davenport's Investors Realty is planning a roughly $33 million redevelopment to turn the long-abandoned and deteriorating Strand condominium tower at 1100 Cleveland St. into a 155-unit apartment and townhome complex.

The nearly $7 million sale is scheduled to close May 18, and if the closing and building permits are secured, the two-year construction project will begin this fall, said John Marling, chairman of the investment firm.

And there's a lot riding on the success of this redevelopment: the Municipal Code Enforcement Board last week voted to forgive $144,000 in liens on the building once construction is completed and a certificate of occupancy is granted. If Investors Realty closes on the building in May but doesn't finish the project, they will be on the hook for the lien balance.

If the sale does not go through, the Strand's current owners, Espacio USA, will have to pay up, according to the agreement.

Code enforcement board member Mike Riordon showed some concern in dropping the lien, given it was first imposed because Espacio abandoned its condominium project midway through and left the 15-story tower as a stain on one of the city's main arteries.

"They're one of the biggest companies in the world," Riordon said at the Jan. 27 meeting. "They're not poor, and it just bothers me that we're giving any kind of a break to a company this size who has the resources. And we have other people come up here, and we tell them you've got 30 days to fix your driveway or we're going to charge them $250 a day."

But the lien agreement also benefits the city in requiring Espacio to drop its $3 million federal lawsuit pending against Clearwater, which alleges a demolition order city officials issued last year was illegal.

The Strand was a mostly vacant office building when a partner of Espacio USA, a Miami subsidiary of a Spanish company, bought it in 2004 for $5.7 million with intentions of renovating it into a luxury apartment complex.

The company began gutting the high-rise, but as the economic downturn hit, construction stopped in 2008 and never started again.

The city began fining Espacio in April 2013 at $250 a day for abandoning the construction site and leaving debris and rebar strewn throughout.

To date, Espacio has paid $105,000 in liens but still owes $144,000, with daily fines still accruing, according to Assistant City Attorney Matthew Smith.

The city issued a demolition order in June after the fire marshal declared it unsafe, and teenagers and people who are homeless were often seen inside.

Espacio sued in July, alleging Clearwater didn't give enough notice.

Eric Page, a Tampa attorney representing Espacio, said his clients never intended the Strand to evolve to such a sorry state, but it simply "went belly up as many did during the recession."

He said this new project gives hope to the East Gateway area.

"It's unfortunate it developed the way that it did," Page said. "By September 2018, when people drive down Cleveland, they're not going to see what they see now. They're going to see something that looks good."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.