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Clearing Clearwater

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Ken Salgat

Staff writer

CLEARWATER -- A development team is proposing two separate yet connected projects for downtown that would add approximately 200 condominiums and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial and retail to an area in need of an economic spark.

Triangle Development Co. LLC plans to build the projects on a 4-acre parcel, approximately one city block, that would bring waterfront condominium living, street-side retail and commercial to an area that's been the site of dilapidated old homes and unkempt lots for years.

The group, comprised of six business professionals -- commercial real estate professionals, architects, attorneys and others -- has plans for a 14-story luxury condo with 52 units and a 5-story project with another 141 condominiums.

Triangle's 5-story Harrison Village would consist of seven interconnected buildings and would bring in about 22,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, a fitness center, a 2-story clubhouse and a pool.

Even a 275-space robotic parking garage, where autos are parked and robotically transported to a pre-designated area in the garage, is planned.

Apparent demand

There is a definite need for new retail space in Clearwater's downtown, said Ben McLeish, a retail broker with Colliers Arnold. The space should fill fast.

"If it's going to be on the ground floor of a multi-storied product with residents, you have a built-in daytime population that can support the commercial and retail," he said.

An average cafe could absorb anywhere from 3,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet, a coffee shop from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and a sandwich shop from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet.

"When you think about just those businesses, you're already at about 10,000 square feet," said McLeish. "Getting to 20,000 might be a little harder, but I don't think it would be that tough."

Compromise paves the way

After some give-and-take with the city over the composition of the project, the plans are well on their way toward approval, said Ben Kugler, Triangle's president and CEO.

"We have the major issues resolved," said Kugler. "We've met with city officials numerous times and what they were really looking for was mixed use. They asked for more commercial than we originally anticipated, but we feel after the fact that we've come out with a better overall project in meeting those requests."

Getting the three to four separate properties together was a task that took the partners just six months, something that was next to impossible for a number of years, said Kugler.

"We closed on our first parcel Jan. 24," said Kugler. "From there, we bought up property June 9 and the last parcel in late June, early July."

Only one parcel, a single lot, remains in the possession of a separate property owner, Carisa Marion. This parcel will not be included in the project.

The demand for the units would depend on a number of factors, said Marvin Rose, publisher of Rose Residential Reports in Tarpon Springs. He tracks new-home development throughout the Bay area.

"It would be a pioneering effort for sure because there hasn't been that much down there (Clearwater) in a long time," said Rose. Using downtown Tampa as a comparison, Rose said there will be some significant construction there in the next four months, but that market remains to be proven.

"There remains, across the state, a great response from investors, which makes the real demand hard to read," said Rose. "There are a lot of people that think that the reservation will pay off in the form of an investment, but that is yet to be seen. It will be years before we really know."

Increased holdings

It has been observed and issues raised that members of the Church of Scientology Flag Ship may have been quietly buying parcels downtown to redevelop into housing for its constituents, a scan of published reports shows.

But Triangle's executive VP Jessica Hollingsworth, who confirmed that all members of the development group are members of the church, dismisses that. The projects are being marketed to everyone, she said.

"Are we building this for the sole benefit of Scientologists? Absolutely not," she said.

The city has been pushing a pedestrian downtown theme, and mixed-use projects offer residents and visitors alike the opportunity to get downtown and stay downtown, said Geri Campos, acting economic development director.

Springtime groundbreaking

If all goes well, the partners plan to break ground on Harrison Village in March and in April on Island View. They expect construction on Harrison Village to wrap up in 14 months. Island View should take 18 months for completion.

As much as 80 percent of Harrison Village's 33 first-phase units have paid reservations, with 55 percent of the units in Island View, including both $1.5-million penthouses, already spoken for, Hollingsworth said.

"These units have only been on the market for two to three months and all we've done is advertise through word of mouth," said Hollingsworth. "This seems to be something people want."

Kugler added that because the units are moving at a relatively brisk pace, the developers are not really looking to sell to investors.

"We plan on having a development that sets the precedence for redevelopment downtown," said Kugler.

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