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    Starbucks seen as welcome jolt to city

    The coffee shop is expected to open by summer at Cleveland Street and Fort Harrison Avenue.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 5, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- Starbucks Coffee Co. sealed a deal Thursday to open a coffeehouse in downtown Clearwater by late next summer.

    The 2,400-square-foot coffee shop will be on the southwest corner of Cleveland Street and Fort Harrison Avenue, after renovations are completed during a seven-month period.

    The rest of the Wiseman Building, built in 1926 and owned by Matrix Lodging of Clearwater, a hotel development and operating company, will become Matrix's headquarters.

    It will be the 10th Starbucks in the Tampa Bay area, a market the Seattle-based coffee chain has tapped into during the past two or three years, said Keith Schantz, Starbucks' Florida real estate manager.

    "We've had great success with our stores in Hillsborough County, and we've had our customers in Pinellas tell us they'd like to get a great cup of coffee in Clearwater," said Schantz, reached in Miami Beach Thursday evening.

    "We thought Clearwater's downtown had a great atmosphere, a good daytime population and it was on the way to the beach," Schantz said.

    Downtown merchants have been searching for just such a pick-me-up since city voters rejected a sweeping redevelopment plan this summer.

    City officials hope the coffee vendor will perk up their marketing efforts to attract other retailers and restaurateurs to the city's historic main street. They said Starbucks is considered a leader that other national retailers sometimes follow.

    "This is a national chain showing confidence that this downtown has a hope and a promise," said Bob Keller, assistant city manager for economic development. "Now the rest of the world may sit up and take notice. It's really going to help us marketing downtown."

    Those who put the deal together say that it has been a bit of grind -- with nearly two years of discussions with Starbucks -- to lure the coffee chain downtown.

    Keller said it couldn't have happened without the city, the Church of Scientology and Matrix Lodging working together.

    Starbucks first became interested in Clearwater's downtown as a result of efforts by Scientology to attract them to open a shop in a Scientology facility here.

    Starbucks ended up agreeing to supply Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel with coffee, but the deal fell through to open a separate store downtown in a Scientology building on Cleveland Street.

    The length of the proposed lease and concerns that protesters against the church might disrupt the shop were among the issues, said Tom DeVocht, who oversees the church's real estate and construction projects.

    Scientology officials then encouraged the coffee chain to begin negotiating with Gerald Ellenburg, the CEO of Matrix, to open their shop in Matrix's building nearby. The city helped make the pitch to the coffee chain.

    Interim City Manager Bill Horne beamed when he heard the deal was finalized. "If there's one product that seems to have universal appeal, it's Starbucks' coffee," Horne said.

    Horne predicted the coffeehouse, with seating for about 40 people, including some sidewalk tables, will help bring people downtown and become a gathering place.

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