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Commission approves beach resort

The 250-room project along Gulfview Boulevard is expected to rise by fall 2003.

By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


CLEARWATER -- After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the City Commission on Thursday night voted to approve a plan by local developers to build a 250-room, $65-million Marriott resort on Clearwater Beach.

In another major project that was fast-tracked for approval before the March 13 election changes the commission, debate continued late into the night over building a new spring training complex for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Commissioners listened to public compliments and complaints about the resort project first. Then they unanimously approved the agreement outlining the city's and developer's obligations to make the resort happen.

"The negotiations have been furious on both sides," said attorney Bill Kimpton, who acquired contracts on property on the 200 and 300 blocks of S Gulfview Boulevard for the resort more than a year ago.

"I'd classify this project as high anxiety on a daily basis," Kimpton said. "But I think we're finally bringing something forward that we can all be proud of for a long, long time."

Charles Siemon, the city's redevelopment consultant and attorney, said the deal was very fair. Although the city is making significant concessions for the project, Siemon termed the future resort "priceless" in its value toward rejuvenating Clearwater Beach as a tourist destination.

Under the terms of the resort deal, a new 150-foot-tall resort with a pool on the roof, a destination restaurant and ground-floor shops would rise by fall 2003 on S Gulfview Boulevard.

The developers of the resort -- which is planned to carry the Marriott brand, although that is not finalized -- would finance, design and build some major changes to the public areas and streets on the beach. It would be a unique role for a private business to play in Clearwater history.

The developers, whose company is called Clearwater Seashell Resort L.L.C., will be allowed to move S Gulfview to the west, add landscaping to the road, build a public beach promenade and widen sidewalks on both sides of Gulfview.

To allow for the Gulfview changes, the city will have to tear up about 300 parking spaces close to the beach, giving up as much as $700,000 in yearly parking revenues.

The developers in turn have agreed to build at least 750 spaces in a garage inside their resort, with 400 spaces open to the public at an undetermined cost. That will replace the lost spaces and add 100 spaces to the beach.

The developers would pay for street improvements in front of their property and be paid back for their other expenses on public improvements from several pools of city revenues in the future, including new property taxes and utility taxes created by their hotel. The minimum value of the Gulfview area street improvements is estimated to be $3.5-million.

The city also will give the developers part of Third Street and part of what is now Gulfview for their project. But the decision to vacate the roadways will have to be left to the next commission to vote on -- giving that group the power to scuttle the deal.

The city also needs county permission to create a "pool" of bonus hotel rooms to be allowed on the beach. The developers would be able to draw on the pool and be allowed to build 250 rooms where about 65 rooms are now allowed.

The final changes to the deal involved timetables and risk.

Facing the possibility that an adjacent property owner, Tony Markopoulos, will file lawsuits challenging the project, its developers requested to have a year to start construction rather than a previous deadline of six months.

Once during the hearing Thursday, Mayor Brian Aungst had to ask Gordon Schiff, an attorney for Markopoulos' motels, to stop objecting to statements made by city administrators.

Schiff complained strongly that the city had been negotiating the development agreement for the hotel up to the last minute Thursday.

"What's the rush?" Schiff asked commissioners. "Why not give the public the opportunity to see the agreement that Mr. Siemon was saying was no big deal?"

The developers also had wanted the city to promise not to build another public garage on south Clearwater Beach until their hotel garage was profitable.

Instead, the agreement says the city will be allowed to build another public garage -- as long as it adds no more than 300 new spaces on south Clearwater Beach for five years.

Resident Carl Wagenfohr questioned why the commission seems to have dropped its priority of building at least two new parking garages on the beach by 2003.

"I'm concerned that the public has not had an opportunity to thoroughly digest (that) there can be no more than 300 spaces created after this in the next five years," he said. "What I would encourage you to do is to delay your decision tonight until we, the public, have had an opportunity to evaluate the decisions that Mr. Siemon is recommending."

In the end, the commission didn't wait.

They also went forward with hiring an architect to build a new main library downtown and voted to raise water and sewer rates by 40 percent in steps through 2004.

And they had halted a rezoning of an oak-tree-covered parcel southwest of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and the Bayside Bridge as of 10 p.m. Thursday.

Another deal to build the Philadelphia Phillies a new spring training complex at a cost of at least $22.7-million was just beginning to be debated at 10:15 p.m.

The stadium deal, like the beach resort, was being negotiated until the last minute Thursday. City Attorney Pam Akin was reviewing a final marked-up draft of the Phillies deal as the meeting began.

A key issue under negotiation Thursday was whether the city would control the architecture and design of the proposed stadium, which would be built with public tax dollars and owned and maintained by Clearwater.

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