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    $80-million development planned

    Lee Arnold envisions a 17-story condominium and a luxury hotel overlooking Clearwater's waterfront.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 26, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Real estate heavyweight Lee Arnold announced plans Thursday to build an upscale, 17-story condominium and a luxury "boutique" hotel in an $80-million project that could boost downtown redevelopment.

    The project, which would span 1.7-acres between Osceola and Fort Harrison avenues south of Drew Street, incorporates some ideas voters rejected in a referendum on redevelopment last summer.

    Arnold, chairman of Colliers Arnold Commercial Real Estate Services, said his firm's ideas for the project are still evolving but predicted the development will be swank.

    "It will be a landmark property, and it will be priced similar to properties in St. Petersburg looking over the water," Arnold said. That means condominium prices could start around $500,000, he said.

    The 17-story condominium tower would have about 92 units, Arnold said. The hotel, which would be in a smaller, shorter structure, would have about 86 units. Arnold envisions about 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of new shops and a restaurant on the street.

    For several years, city officials have talked about creating a "destination" restaurant downtown to boost redevelopment efforts. They have encouraged more residential units to be built, as well, in an effort to attract more people to live in and near downtown.

    City officials hailed Arnold's announcement.

    "I think it's a great kick-start for a lot of things," Mayor Brian Aungst said. "It's a good sign, hopefully, of more things to come."

    Arnold said Aungst encouraged the Church of Scientology to sell Arnold some of the land he needed to pull it off.

    The contract to buy the land, which contains church offices, was finalized within the past week, Arnold said. Neither church officials nor Arnold would disclose the sale price.

    "Hopefully, it will help big-time in the development of downtown, stir some things up and get things going," said Tom DeVocht, vice president for construction and real estate for the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization.

    In addition to the church land, the 1.7-acre project site includes Colliers Arnold's current headquarters building and a small city parking lot.

    Arnold said his real estate firm already is looking for new headquarters, to make way for the condo and hotel project.

    Arnold still has to negotiate to buy the city's land, a 50-foot-wide city parking lot off Drew Street.

    Arnold said he is buying the property for the project in a partnership with his father-in-law and former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants chairman Herb Brown. Colliers Arnold will develop the project.

    The new buildings would be designed with a Mediterranean revival style similar to the downtown post office, adding to the character of downtown, Arnold said. The 17-story condominium tower would easily be one of the tallest buildings downtown.

    After market studies are completed, and the specifics of the project are finalized, Arnold said construction would start in 2003.

    But he cautioned that many details are still conceptual and the project could change.

    "It may change considerably from start to actual shovel in the ground," Arnold said. "But it will be a very, very nice addition to the waterfront."

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