Clearwater should buy downtown land for redevelopment - 2017-02-20
The Clearwater City Council will have a pivotal discussion this afternoon that could help determine the future of a downtown that has been waiting decades for a revival. Council members should agree to buy a prime piece of land adjacent to City Hall with an eye toward future redevelopment that could fit nicely with the latest revitalization plan. Or they can take a pass, let the Church of Scientology buy the land and allow the church to tighten its choke hold on the city.
It's important to take the long view. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium bought the 1.4-acre lot in 2012 as part of an ambitious plan to build a new home along the downtown bluff that would have been the long-sought signature attraction for a rejuvenated downtown. Voters demonstrated their faith by approving a referendum in 2013 to allow a long-term lease of the adjacent City Hall site to the aquarium. But the aquarium could not raise the millions it needed, abandoned the idea in 2015 and is ready to sell the vacant lot it no longer needs.
The aquarium, which is renovating its facilities on Island Estates, has done its part. It has given the city time to complete a new blueprint for downtown. For more than a year, it has held off the Church of Scientology, which has offered the aquarium more than $4 million for the property. Mayor George Cretekos said Monday he is inclined to have the city buy the property, and the other council members also should step up.