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    A Times Editorial

    Squabbles hinder progress for beach

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001

    Some things never change, it seems.

    The city of Clearwater, blessed with the best opportunity for high-end redevelopment in Clearwater Beach in decades, now sees that opportunity threatened by a squabble between competing interests on the beach.

    If you think you've heard this before, oh yes, you have. In fact, the inability of beach property owners to set aside some individual interests and work together for the general benefit of the beach is one of the factors that kept the beach stagnant for years.

    Beach hotelier Tony Markopoulos has sued to block development of the planned 250-room Marriott Seashell Resort on S Gulfview Boulevard, the western-most thoroughfare that overlooks the gulf beach. Markopoulos argues that some of the things the Marriott developers have requested from the city would negatively impact his ability to redevelop his own properties, and that the city violated his rights to due process in approving the Marriott project.

    A court will have to determine whether Markopoulos' legal arguments have any validity. That could tie up the Marriott project for months or years, perhaps even kill it. The lawsuits also could slow or stymie the city's effort to encourage other much-needed redevelopment projects on the barrier island.

    It is difficult to figure out why Markopoulos would want that to happen. After all, he, too, has grand plans for his beach property, hoping to turn it into a resort much larger than the Marriott. He even wants some of the same concessions and development rights from the city that the Marriott principals requested.

    People who frequent Clearwater Beach couldn't miss Markopoulos' property. He owns the block on which the Days Inn stands between S Gulfview and Coronado Drive, just across the street from the Pier 60 parking lot. The unattractive building has long contributed to the scruffy, outdated look of the row of aging hotels along S Gulfview.

    The Marriott would presumably provide a desirable neighbor for Markopoulos' proposed resort -- certainly more desirable than the '50s-style motels there now -- and could only increase the value of Markopoulos' land. It also seems likely that his business would benefit from the energy, people and money that a thriving new hotel, restaurants and beach promenade -- all part of the Marriott proposal -- could bring to the beach.

    Yet Markopoulos presses ahead with his lawsuits. And he and those who speak for him even act as if the city's approval of the Marriott, whose developers were well ahead of Markopoulos on planning and seeking city approval of their project, was some sort of personal attack on him. What possible reason could the city have to want to prevent well-planned redevelopment of the Days Inn site, one of the most visible properties on the beach?

    Meanwhile, city officials deny that they have done anything improper and methodically press on with the votes required to make the Marriott project a reality and implement the Beach by Design plan to improve the beach tourist areas. At each step, they invite Markopoulos into the process. In their discussions with the Marriott developers, city officials demonstrated that they not only were willing, but eager to grant concessions and approvals to developers who bring forth workable plans and want to negotiate in good faith.

    City commissioners, at their meeting Thursday night, repeated their desire to see more resorts built at the beach and urged Markopoulos to seek solutions at the negotiating table rather than in a courtroom -- an offer that, hopefully, the Markopoulos camp is considering.

    Commissioners may want to seek additional legal advice to make sure that there neither have been nor are any missteps concerning the Marriott project, but otherwise, they should take the courageous stance of proceeding with what is right for the future of Clearwater Beach.

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