CLEARWATER — Worries that Pinellas County will move its main offices and personnel away from downtown Clearwater are premature, County Commission Chairman Karen Seel said last week.
“To my knowledge, nothing has been determined,” Seel told the Beacon after she learned the Downtown Development Board planned to send her a letter asking her to reconsider the county’s decision to leave.
A draft of the letter, which was to be signed by board Chairman Paris Morfopoulos, indicated the county had already decided to move out of Clearwater’s downtown.
“The Clearwater DDB urges Pinellas County leaders to reconsider this decision and asks that you please share our recommendation with staff in the County Administrator’s Office,” a draft of the letter attached to the board’s March 6 agenda reads. “If a move from the existing facilities is unavoidable, it would be our strong preference that any relocation be to another location within our downtown core.”
“The economic impact of a relocation from Downtown Clearwater would be far reaching,” the letter continues. “The effect that such a move would have on surrounding businesses would be extremely negative.”
The Clearwater City Council, which abandoned an aging City Hall for new offices at One Clearwater Tower at the end of 2018, is discussing combining resources with the county to build a joint use government center. It could include offices for county commissioners, the Clearwater’s mayor and city commissioners, and shared meeting chambers, as well as offices for city and county departments.
The county has not yet decided what to do with the county administration building at 315 Court St. And that’s the point, Seel said.
“The county is still looking at many options and is also doing a study as to working with the City of Clearwater about a shared facility,” Seel wrote the Beacon. “It is too soon to contemplate what this study will offer as far as recommendations.”
City Councilman Hoyt Hamilton, who sits on the Downtown Development Board, suggested at the board’s March 6 meeting that the letter be changed.
“I’m thinking the verbiage might be ahead of itself,” Hamilton told fellow board members. “I don’t have a problem sending them a letter urging them to continue with the study and urging them to stay in downtown and work with the city.”
With that, the development board voted to mail a slightly different message: We know you’re still looking at options, but please don’t leave downtown.
“I think it’s important that the county facilities and their employees remain in our downtown district,” Morfopoulos said. “It’s an important economic impact; it keeps Clearwater the County Seat.”
Clearwater has been Pinellas’ County Seat since 1915; downtown businesses are apparently not ready to give up that honor.
Don’t look for big explosion at demolition
The demolition of the Harborview Center in downtown Clearwater is underway. The city posted a video on its Facebook Page last week showing construction equipment knocking down a section of the building.
There had been visions of using explosives to raze the building in a dramatic public display, but engineers warned that pieces of the demolished building could tumble downhill into Coachman Park or destroy the paving of surrounding streets.
Instead, construction equipment is already clawing away at the building and removing it by truck, Hamilton said.
“There’s not going to be an explosion, there’s not going to be any wrecking balls, the demolition is going to be a piece-by-piece demolition,” Hamilton told the board at its March 6 meeting. “They worry that any explosions or percussion doesn’t do any damage to Osceola or Cleveland streets.”
Biltmore Construction, which has the $1.9 million contract to demolish the building, has been preparing the building for months, removing asbestos and clearing out wires, metal and other detritus. They also have tied water, sewer and electricity lines away from the building in preparation for its dismantling. The company also installed soil anchors around the basement’s foundation to stabilize the building during the dismantling.
Mayor George N. Cretekos, city councilmen and other city officials will say a few words to mark the demolition at 5 p.m. on March 29, which coincides with Blast Friday, the free food and craft festival, board administrator Anne Fogarty France said.
The Clearwater Facebook Page says the public can “take a piece of the Harborview concrete home with them or do an art project with it” in Second Century Studios, an arts center a few blocks away at 331 Cleveland St.
Approximately 40 percent of the building has been demolished; the entire demolition is to be complete by early August, the posting states.