It was a little like Christmas in August for Clearwater leaders when an Orlando-area company confirmed plans for a mixed-use residential development adjacent to the city’s Prospect Lake Park.
Topping a wish list of city officials and private sector leaders has been the desire for more downtown residential development. “We need more residential to encourage more retailing and entertainment establishments,” Bill Sturdevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, said a week before the Prospect Lake announcement. “It’s absolutely essential for the health of downtown.”
Prospect Property Group of Longwood plans to break ground by year’s end on 257 apartment units. And, said company Vice President Frank Tetel, “There will be at least 10,000 square feet of retail space.” The development, with estimated construction costs of $35 million, will be just southeast of the intersection of Cleveland Street and Prospect Avenue.
Tetel told Freedom that he was encouraged by the strong demand in Clearwater for professionals seeking homes close to the city’s core. “And much of that comes from Scientologists,” he said.
The project has had to scale several hurdles, including resolving red tape from the federal government over repayment of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite those delays, the issues were resolved and Prospect Property moved ahead.
Clearwater’s downtown has been making strong progress in recent months. The opening of the Capitol Theatre has had a strong lineup of acts, and attendance has been high.
However, the key ingredients in any downtown are retailing, residential, restaurants and entertainment. Prior to the recession in the late 2000s, there were ambitious plans for several condominium and apartment projects, but the economic downturn stalled or killed some of the developments. Two large condo towers, Water’s Edge and Station Square, have been successes, and a third called Skyview is planned across Cleveland Street from the Capitol.
Tetel said, “There is a general trend in Florida, including Clearwater, for people to be in a downtown, close to work and entertainment. Clearwater, close to the beach and many amenities, is a great location.”
Pinellas Tourism Booming
Sun + sand has always been the winning calculation for Florida tourism. Even when Walt Disney planted his mother of all tourist attractions in Orlando, the idea was to be close enough to the Atlantic and Gulf beaches for visitors to spend some time away from “the Mouse.”
And Pinellas County has spent money and effort to lure visitors to its beaches—making 2013 a triumph for the tourism industry. The county had 5,579,900 overnight visitors (one person per night) during last year, an increase of 144,900 over 2012, according to an April 2014 report from the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council.
That equated to $201 million in economic impact for just the additional number of visitors, as well as 1,400 additional jobs supported by the increase in tourists.
Pinellas’ 2013 tourism accounted for $8.3 billion in economic impact, a six percent increase over the previous year.
Visitors coming to Pinellas—particularly Clearwater—because of the Church of Scientology make a healthy contribution to the economy. Although Scientologists were a small percentage of the total number of visitors, Church members stay in Pinellas for a much longer time each trip, an average of 36 days. With 9,148 Scientologists visiting Clearwater last year, that works out to about 329,328 person-day stays, compared to total Pinellas person-day stays of 5,579,900, or roughly six percent of total overnight visitors.
New Outdoor Museum for Clearwater’s History
Gracing the front of the historic Coachman Building is an outdoor museum which opens a window to the past, to the years before Clearwater was one of the top tourist destinations in the southern United States. Beginning with the Native American cultures who called the area home, the history of Clearwater exhibit highlights achievements such as the establishment of Pinellas County, the boomtime before the Great Depression, the arrival of Phillies spring training and a 1965 visit by the Rolling Stones.
Containing 74 photos and 12 artifacts from eras past, the exhibit includes some images dated from the 1880s.
“Each one of the photos was carefully restored by Church staff—it took more than 100 hours of work to remove scratches, repair tears and fix images which had faded over the years,” said Lisa Mansell, the community affairs director for the Church of Scientology. “The Clearwater Historical Society was of great assistance to us.”
Research was also done to include appropriate artifacts for the displays. These include 1920s dinnerware from the Fort Harrison, 1920s golf clubs made by MacGregor Yardsmore and a 1924 Gamewell Fire Alarm Call Box.
“The Fort Harrison silver tea pot and coffee pot were found several years ago by a couple in Jupiter, who then shipped them to us here,” continued Mansell. “Each piece was produced in the 1920s by the same company that did silverware for every major hotel of that era, the International Silver Company.”
As for the Coachman Building itself? The property was originally constructed in 1917. At the time, it was Pinellas County’s only 5-story structure and was the tallest building in the county.
The property now serves as a religious training and counseling center for the 2,300 Scientology staff who work at the Church’s Clearwater facility.
The Church has been active in historic restoration for three decades, including the just-completed restoration of the Coachman Building, the 1996 renovation of the Bank of Clearwater Building and the full restoration of the Fort Harrison.
Gala’s Gelateria Now Serving a Taste of Italy
Trained at Gelato University in Bologna, Italy, Tommaso Galantini has a passion for the art of making gelato. He has brought this passion to Gala’s Gelateria and More, located at 331 Cleveland Street on the ground floor of Water’s Edge Condos.
“Making gelato takes time and passion,” says Galantini. “I make everything from scratch. If there is no good, fresh mango at the market, then I don’t make any mango gelato that day.”
Galantini makes 22 different flavors on site. He explains that gelato only has a three-day shelf life, so his products are continually fresh.
And for those who are not in the mood for the creamy-sweet gelato, Gala’s also offers a whole array of Illy Coffee drinks. Galantini was trained by the makers of Illy Coffee at a special coffee college.
“We have a lot of repeat customers. We wanted to build a place like you would find in Italy, where you can go, sit and talk and enjoy your coffee and gelato,” Galantini concludes.