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Scientology Crime Syndicate

http://www.sptimes.com/News/042900/NorthPinellas/Grand_downtown_plan_e.shtml

Grand downtown plan entices many

Clearwater residents embrace the idea of upscale shopping and redesigned buildings and parks.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2000

CLEARWATER -- Patty Zimmerman says she is tired of having to leave Clearwater every time she wants to visit an upscale shopping area, such as Hyde Park in Tampa with its trendy stores and restaurants.

She's hoping that will change soon.

Zimmerman, 52, was one of 200 people who attended a public meeting Friday afternoon. They gathered in an upstairs conference room of Harborview Center to hear developers talk about their multimillion-dollar revitalization plan for downtown Clearwater.

"I'm so excited," she said. "The fact that we now can have something down here, you know, like a regular city. If this happens, it would put Clearwater on the map."

Many in the audience shared Zimmerman's enthusiasm for the $300-million project, which would include a state-of-the-art cinema, 1,200 housing units, more than 150,000 square feet of shops and the quadrupling of Coachman Park.

"I think it's beautiful," said Rose Morgan, 79, who moved to Florida from New York City. "How can you not like that?"

Wayne Misler is sold on the plan, too.

"I live on the beach and I don't find it worthwhile to cross the bridge and come downtown," said the 56-year-old retired jeweler.

Pam Marks is co-chairwoman for Citizens for a Better Clearwater, which supports downtown redevelopment.

"I want this for them," she said, pointing to her 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.

As president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mike Meidel was pleased that most in attendance at Friday's meeting seemed in agreement with developers.

"Everybody seems to be very supportive," he said. "I think (the developers) thought it out and they've helped develop a feeling of trust."

Rounds of applause erupted throughout the two-hour meeting. And those who participated in an exit poll overwhelmingly supported the proposed design.

Though 625 people attended three town meetings Thursday and Friday, only 178 filled out questionnaires. Twenty-four respondents were undecided. Twenty said they would vote against moving forward with the plan and 135 people said they would approve the public-private partnership in a referendum July 11.

"Our main concern is that there is a total commitment from citizens and the government for this plan," said West Palm Beach businessman George de Guardiola, who partnered with David Frisbie, also from West Palm Beach, for the massive redevelopment plan.

If the public votes against the project, the developers said they would not devise another plan. There would be no second chance, de Guardiola said.

Mayor Brian Aungst hopes the residents approve the plan.

"We want to keep up with the times," he said. "We don't want to be New York City, but we want to enhance our strengths."

"I'm going to be the No. 1 cheerleader for this as long as the financial thing works out," he said.

It is the financial aspect of the plan that disturbs Anne Garris, a longtime Clearwater Beach resident and spokeswoman of Save the Bayfront, a group that opposes commercial development on the city's waterfront.

Garris said she favors downtown redevelopment and is pleased that developers have kept the bayfront open, but she doesn't think spending possibly $40-million in public funds is a good idea.

"I like the way Dunedin has done it, a little bit at a time and at their own pace," she said. "I'm tired of us trying to be another West Palm Beach or whomever we're trying to be."

Others had concerns, too.

John King, a lifelong Clearwater resident and a manager for the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, wondered where the group's 1,200 delegates would meet next year for their convention if the Harborview Center is gone.

"They're making a big mistake if they don't have an adequate convention facility," said King, 41.

De Guardiola told the audience that 20,000 square feet of meeting space would be part of a 200-room hotel. He has proposed converting Calvary Baptist Church's sanctuary into a grand hotel lobby. But there's no guarantee a high-end hotel would offer discount rates like the Harborview Center for non-profit groups.

Irene Gaccek, the city's fire inspector, asked the developers how emergency vehicles could get to people in the park. Drew Street along the waterfront would be replaced with a wide sidewalk and the west end of Cleveland Street would be transformed into a series of steps descending to the waterfront. Frisbie assured her that the major pathways in the park could serve as roads in emergency situations.

A few people in the audience asked whether the project would still go forward if a new bridge never materializes. Plans call for transforming the Memorial Causeway into a pier with a seafood restaurant at the end.

Frisbie said the plan would survive without a new bridge, but there would be no pier and the botanical garden would shrink. Yet the redesign of Cleveland Street would remain, he said.

Mark Bunker, who works for Church of Scientology critic Bob Minton, expressed concern that Scientologists may be the ones who benefit from the redevelopment. The spiritual headquarters for the Church of Scientology are in downtown Clearwater.

Frisbie said people who are now intimidated with Scientology's strong presence in downtown would feel otherwise once the area was redeveloped. Scientologists would simply blend in with the thousands of people who would flock to downtown daily.

"I think your fears are way overblown," he said. "I promise you if you create this urban environment your fears will disappear."

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Well, at least the developers have thoroughly thought this out...

Create massive new housing in downtown...

Allow Scientology to retire their bus fleet and move all the org members next to the Super Power building...

Create a lovely new Scientology campus at tax payer expense...

And your problems disappear.

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