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McDonald's, vacant on U.S. 19 for 14 years, gets a deadline

The McDonald’s at 23837 U.S. 19 has been vacant for 14 years. Optometrist Gilbert Jannelli owns the property.
The McDonald’s at 23837 U.S. 19 has been vacant for 14 years. Optometrist Gilbert Jannelli owns the property.
Published Oct. 16, 2014

CLEARWATER — At U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road, there's a well-known eyesore — a dead McDonald's that has been vacant for 14 years.

The building has long been known for its boarded-up windows, peeling paint, overgrown planters, graffiti-covered walls, trash bags dumped in the parking lot and crumbling remains of an outdoor play area.

Now, under pressure from the city of Clearwater, the owner has fixed it up with a fresh coat of paint, new windows, a major cleanup and assorted repairs. But the city has given him a deadline to get the vacant building occupied or face fines of up to $250 a day.

The case is complicated by the fact that the property and a large grassy field next to it are being leased to General Electric, which is using the land for employee parking while it expands its manufacturing plant near Sunset Point Road and Hercules Avenue.

The owner of the McDonald's property and the grassy field, Clearwater optometrist Gilbert Jannelli, says that because GE is leasing the property, the building is essentially occupied.

"At this point in time, they are not physically using the building. But they may opt to use the building," Jannelli said at a recent Code Enforcement Board hearing. "They have the right to use that in the future."

The city doesn't see it that way. The board is giving Jannelli until August to sell the building, demolish it or have a tenant occupy it.

In an interview, Jannelli wouldn't comment on the board's ruling. But he said he hopes to get the property developed now that the economy is improving.

The former McDonald's is at 23837 U.S. 19, along a one-way frontage road at the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road. The large grassy field just to the south of it is one of the largest undeveloped parcels on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County. A large shopping center with stores such as Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Staples, and Bed Bath & Beyond is on the opposite side of U.S. 19.

Jannelli owns a lot of property around Clearwater. He says he has been unable to fix up the former McDonald's until now because he wasn't its sole owner.

His father and a partner owned the property. When they died, it was passed down to their successors. Jannelli says he wasn't in charge of the holding company that controlled the land.

"My hands were tied," he told the Code Enforcement Board. He has since bought out the other partner.

Jannelli also says he can't do anything else with the property while GE is leasing it.

The local GE subsidiary, Instrument Transformers Inc., is expanding its plant at 1907 Calumet St., building on its existing parking lot. GE has acquired neighboring land for a new parking lot. In the meantime, it's shuttling workers from temporary parking on Jannelli's land.

GE has a 10-month lease on the property that runs through the spring, with an option to renew it monthly for six months, Jannelli said.

Jannelli has a long history with Clearwater code enforcement, with violations for poorly maintained properties, graffiti, inoperative vehicles and uncollected debris. However, he argues that this is par for the course when you own a lot of rental property.

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Contact Mike Brassfield at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.