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Eastshore needs more than dreams

Published February 15, 2004

The project dubbed Bluewater Isle Resort always sounded more like pie-in-the-sky than reality, so it comes as no surprise that Bob Metz's $350-million plan to remake the rundown Eastshore area of Clearwater Beach is kaput.

Skepticism resulted not just from the price tag on the project, which at $350-million is more than the estimated cost to rebuild the World Trade Center, almost twice the price of developing the International Plaza mall in Tampa, and far, far more than the cost of developing St. Petersburg's BayWalk and Ybor City's Centro Ybor.

It wasn't just that Metz, who owns an insurance and real estate company in Clearwater, had never developed such a project and showed no evidence of having the resources to do so.

It wasn't just that the project as described seemed unrealistically lavish: four high-rise condo towers with private elevators and plasma TV screens for each unit; a 200-slip marina on the Intracoastal Waterway, including a public boardwalk; a lighthouse with a history museum inside; restaurants and boutiques along upgraded and landscaped streets; a fleet of Hummers and Lincoln Town Cars to ferry wealthy condo residents to the Belleair Country Club for golf.

Instead, the giveaway was Metz's habit of promising things that were never delivered and blaming everyone else for the project's failure to progress:

He said the city refused to accept his development application. (The city did accept it, but then found it was lacking required information that Metz still has not provided.)

He said his investors defaulted on their promises to him. (But according to one financial backer, it was Metz who misled the investors, so they were demanding he step aside.)

He said the city insisted that overseas owners of Eastshore properties come to Clearwater to sign paperwork and that problems such as civil war kept them from doing so. (The city doesn't require owners to be on site when they sign the paperwork in question.)

He said bond financing to develop the project would come through by the end of August 2003. (Uh, no.)

Last week, when even Metz's former business partner and his lawyer were acknowledging that the Bluewater Isle project had collapsed, Metz continued to talk about it with a Disney-esque bent toward fantasy. "It's still a dream," he said. "I haven't given up."

Said one Eastshore property owner, holding an expired option Metz signed to buy his property, Bob Metz is "dust in the wind."

Clearwater city officials were wise to take a wary approach to Metz's grandiose plans from the beginning. They understood the high hurdles a developer would have to get over to complete such a project, and they just didn't think Metz could jump that high.

Now, however, the city is back where it started. Eastshore still is blighted and needs redevelopment. Property owners there who had hung their hopes on Metz and his dream are disappointed again, as they have been by previous promises and schemes by others.

And it is more apparent than ever how difficult it will be for any single developer to assemble enough land and resources to remake Eastshore in the way the city and its Beach By Design redevelopment plan envisioned.

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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