Building For Sale. For Rent. Store Closing. These are signs in storefront windows in the 600 block of Cleveland Street. Merchants on the south side of the street contend that their businesses are suffering from a lack of parking spaces and the continuing postponement of the Cleveland Streetscape.
Al and Linda Bitman, owners of Park Jewelers, are closing their business and selling the building. The Bitmans moved the store from its original location on Park Street to Cleveland in 1979. Mr. Bitman said, “The city has sold too many parking spaces, and this has been prohibitive to merchants. There are more vacant stores on the street now than there were 10 years ago. We have been waiting for years for the revamping of downtown, but when civic planners are questioned about a proposed date the answer is, ‘Tomorrow.’ I am tired of waiting for tomorrow. We are consolidating this business with our Tampa store.”
Beautiful Baskets, Etc. occupied a space in the Bitmans’ building but closed. Salon Bravo is the remaining tenant. Helyn Zino, Salon Director and Stylist, stated, “My staff and I are enthusiastically hopeful about the growth of downtown. We will continue in every way to add to its development.”
In July 2003 City Council members and the Community Redevelopment Agency selected Ray Cassano, a downtown property owner and a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, to head a group of local investors interested in backing a $25-million complex to support the rejuvenation of downtown. Urban Studio and Beck Development LLC, a Dallas builder, designed the building to complement the Mediterranean Revival architecture of the historic post office. The Station Square project would include 100 condominiums plus retail shops and offices.
The City Council approved the redesigned H-shaped project in February 2004. The height increased to158 feet with 126 residential and 4 commercial condominiums. The plans included retail space and a restaurant on the ground floor with 4 ½ decks of masked parking at an estimated cost of $42-million. Clearwater Custom Floors, owned by Cassano, will be demolished, and the adjacent parking lot will be purchased from the city by the developer. The city will buy back 100 spaces for public parking at a cost of approximately $1.25-million. Part of the purchase funds will come from the sale of the property, which has been appraised at $720,000, and the remainder from money for the CRA.
According to Mr. Cassano, owner of Station Square Realty, all documents for the project have been approved, and the ground breaking will occur in January or February. Construction is to be completed in 12 to 14 months. During this period, there will be no on-street parking on the north side of Cleveland. Station Square Park will be fenced off for the construction site, and merchants on the street’s south side will lose the last city parking lot available to their customers.
The Cleveland Streetscape is a $5-million renovation of Cleveland between Myrtle and Osceola Avenues and may take two years to complete. Construction plans for the landscaping and beautification of the street have been put on hold until the completion of the Memorial Causeway Bridge. Merchants fear the lack of parking and a lengthy renovation may cause greater loss of revenue. They predict more For Sale and Closed signs will appear in store windows before the projects are finished.
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