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As condo market falls, hope for a hotel rises

A Times Editorial
Published January 10, 2008


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The old Adam's Mark hotel on Clearwater Beach was reduced to a pile of rubble in October 2005, and since then, the parcel with the million-dollar view of Clearwater Beach has been vacant except for a sales office and signs promoting the planned Indigo Beach Residences and Suites.

Exit that developer, enter a new one.

Taylor Woodrow, an international firm with deep pockets, took a big loss to sell the vacant Adam's Mark property for close to half what it paid for the parcel in 2005. The company had planned to build condos - the Indigo Beach Residences - but there is an oversupply of condos in Pinellas County now, and that, combined with the troubled housing market and credit crunch, made buyers much too scarce for Taylor Woodrow.

However, Taylor Woodrow's departure is not bad news for the community. Rather than condominiums, the new developer plans a hotel, which is what city officials had preferred all along. It is hotels, not condominium residences, that will boost Clearwater Beach's tourism potential.

The new buyer, Salt Block 57 LLC, is affiliated with Ocean Properties, an international hotel developer and manager with a respected resume. The company operates more than 100 hotels in North America.

The new buyer paid $17.5-million for the Clearwater Beach property on the west side of S Gulfview Boulevard and doesn't intend to leave it vacant for long. Salt Block 57 will seek approval of its hotel plans, which include some variance requests, from the Clearwater Community Development Board on Tuesday afternoon, and if the project gets a thumbs up, construction could start in 2009.

The building will be smaller than the one Taylor Woodrow had proposed because of smaller rooms and fewer parking spaces in the garage. The hotel plans call for 230 rooms.

The downturn in the condo market presents a promising new opportunity. Clearwater's Beach By Design redevelopment plan had envisioned a new hotel district along S Gulfview Boulevard, with the hotels fronting on the city's new Beach Walk promenade, boosting the tax base and helping to pay for public improvements on the beach. When hotel financing seemed to dry up and the condo market boomed the last two years, would-be hotel developers began modifying their plans to include condominiums or condo-hotel units. That might have been better than no redevelopment at all, but it was not what the city had hoped to attract.

Now, the market has taken another turn. While every project should get proper scrutiny, Clearwater can seize this moment to get new hotel plans on the boards and help developers navigate the plan review process.

[Last modified January 9, 2008, 20:56:14]


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