Church of Scientology's new 380,000 square-foot
religious services center sets the architectural trend
for other new downtown area developments.
Above: As White Development Company's Jim White
explained to Church Downtown Relations Director and
Clearwater Main Street committee member Lisa Mansell, "I
told my Harbor Oaks Shopping Center acrhitects to refer
to the Fort Harrison, the Church of Scientology's new
building, and Peace Memorial Baptist Church [next to the
Fort Harrison] in designing the shopping center."
Below: Developer Elias Jafif (right)
talks Clearwater Business with media consultant Keith
Stone at Jafif's newly-purchased AmSouth property, where
his plans for nearly the entire block include new
entertainment, retail and residential
For the past five years the groundwork has been laid for
what is now happening in downtown Clearwater. While the city
of Clearwater’s downtown projects, including the new main
library and future streetscape and signage improvements, are
moving ahead, other property owners are taking up the
For nearly three decades, since its arrival in Clearwater
in 1975, the Church of Scientology has been engaged in
redeveloping and renovating their own properties. Now the
largest downtown property taxpayer, (paying nearly $500,000 in
2002 alone), the Church has completed major renovations over
the years, including the upgrades of the Fort Harrison Hotel,
the Sandcastle Hotel, the Clearwater Bank Building, the
Coachman Building, three motor inns along North Fort Harrison,
and most recently, the Osceola Inn. A second, more extensive
renovation of the landmark Fort Harrison Hotel is now
underway, which will return the hotel to its original splendor
of the 1920’s, and also house two new restaurants and a
conference center available for community events.
The Church’s current project is the construction of a new,
seven-story, 380,000 square foot religious delivery center,
connected to the historic hotel by a sky bridge across Fort
Harrison Avenue. In keeping with the Mediterranean
architectural style of the hotel, the new building will have a
large gallery, open to the public, with informational displays
depicting the basic tenets of the Scientology religion.
Meanwhile, others have begun to put their own plans into
action to create a downtown that will house new residents and
bring additional retail and other businesses newly to the
area. The result is a growing consensus that the downtown
neighborhood will not only be a source of community pride but
prosperity. The increased tax base is an additional benefit
for all of Clearwater that, say the Chetkins, cannot be
A typical downtown redevelopment project is the Weisman
Building, also on the corner of Cleveland and Fort Harrison.
Before its renovation, this property supported a single retail
establishment that employed less than five employees. The
vacant second floor was home to only a flock of pigeons.
In the past six years the Weisman premises have been
completely renovated, its appraised property value doubling in
the process. More importantly, an underutilized downtown
historical landmark is now home both to an international
development concern and one of the most successful Starbucks
coffee shops in Florida, as well — and that adds up to more
than five times the number of employees working in the
The Wiseman Building has
proven a most successful starting point for Main
Street community progress. Today seven different
downtown Clearwater residential and mixed-use retail/office residential projects
are either in the early planning stages or under
construction. An overview of the projects shows they cater to all
Meeting New Demands
"New residents become patrons of local businesses
and allow those same businesses to employ and retain
staff, which again increases both demand and service
availability for everyone in the community."- Blake Plumley,
P.A.C Land Development
The Laura Street town home project, located a block north
of Cleveland on Laura, was the first of its kind to break
ground in downtown. Now nearing completion, its 18 units
create a neighborhood unto themselves, but within walking
distance of the downtown retail core.
“I got involved with the project because I felt that
Clearwater has a bright and dynamic future,” Laura Street
developer Bill Lazarony told Freedom. “I decided to
help show that there is a market for residential urban units
here in downtown Clearwater.”
At the other end of downtown are the BayView Condominiums,
currently under construction at 700 Osceola Avenue.
Twenty-eight upscale condominiums are replacing a worn-down
apartment building. Though 28 families will soon be able to
call BayView home, its impact on the area goes further than
its rooms with a view.
“A direct benefit to the community is the increased tax
base developed by the project immediately,” says project
developer Blake Plumley of P.A.C. Land Development Corporation
of Winter Park, Florida. “As well, you have the long-term
impact of upscale residents within close proximity to a
burgeoning downtown area. Those same new residents become
patrons of local businesses and allow those same businesses to
employ and retain staff, which again increases both demand and
service availability for everyone in the community.”
Dotting the landscape between these two developments are a
number of other projects to create additional residences,
office space, parking and conference facilities.
These include Mediterranean
Village, which is currently under construction just east
of Myrtle Avenue downtown and a high-rise mixed-use project near Station
Square Park. Looking to the future, there is
the re-development of the Colliers Arnold property on Drew and
Osceola into a mixed use retail, residential, hotel and
conference facility. Next door to that is the AmSouth Bank
property on Cleveland Street, which was recently purchased and
is now being studied to discern its redevelopment potential as
a mixed-use project.
Not only are larger developers looking to change the face
of downtown, but smaller-scale property owners, like Len and
Emmy Chetkin, are also stepping up to the plate. Having
recently purchased the original People’s Bank Building on
Cleveland and Fort Harrison, the Chetkins see an acceleration
of change today in downtown Clearwater that approximates Key
West’s 20 years ago.
They envision apartments on the second floor with a
restaurant and ice cream shop on the ground floor of the old
bank location. They are currently working on the architectural
plans for the building and will then begin to renovate the
property, including fixing the clock that has been a downtown
landmark since the 1930’s.
The Future Landscape
In the next five years downtown Clearwater’s skyline will
dramatically transform, say both developers and city planners.
Wiser utilization of properties and wider availability of
retail, residential and parking are just some of the benefits.
And with a larger property tax base and revenue from increased
sales tax in the area, residents can look forward to a safer,
more industrious and aesthetic climate — all hallmarks of a
downtown that everyone in the city can be proud to call home.
Thanks to the foresight and creative
spirit of the Len and Emmy Chetkins and others like them in
both the public and private sector, the heart that is downtown
Clearwater once again beats robust as a lively hub of
creativity, commerce and culture.
If you are interested in assisting in the rebirth and
rejuvination of downtown Clearwater, there are opportunities to make good
use of enthusiasm. Please contact Anne Fogarty, Main Street Coordinator at (727)