CLEARWATER -- Opus South Corporation recently revealed plans to acquire and redevelop the Calvary Baptist Church property, located on the bluff overlooking Clearwater's downtown waterfront. In addition, Opus expressed an interest in acquiring the adjacent City Hall property, providing them with enough land to construct two 25-floor condominium buildings and street-level retail space.
Opus' plan includes demolishing the current City Hall building, built in 1966, as well as the four Calvary buildings at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street: the domed Sanctuary completed in 1926, Education Building 1 built in 1955 and renovated in 1997, Education Building 2 built in 1961, and the Worship Center built in 1989.
But there are those who regret the possible destruction of Calvary's domed Sanctuary, most notably Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. He said, "The Sanctuary has historical significance and can be a valuable asset to the City going forward;" Hibbard cited possible uses as a performing or visual arts center for Clearwater's downtown.
Recently, public support has emerged for saving the Sanctuary by doing a "land swap" with Opus. The concept is that a new City Hall building would be needed anyway, so why not move it into one or all of the existing Calvary buildings, saving the historic Calvary Sanctuary while at the same time saving City Hall construction costs.
But can Calvary's buildings provide sufficient office and meeting space to satisfy the needs of City Hall? The answer appears to be a qualified yes, with parking being the biggest concern.
The current City Hall consists of three floors and has just less than 25,000 square feet of floor space. It houses 53 City employees, about half in offices and half in open cubicles, and contains the City Council Chambers with a seating capacity of 155.
Calvary's buildings total over 110,000 square feet, over four times the area of City Hall, the domed Sanctuary having 44,570 square feet, Education Building 1 having 14,040, Education Building 2 having 29,120, and the Worship Center having 22,500. The combined square footage of only the Sanctuary and Education 1 buildings exceeds the size of City Hall by a factor of two. Calvary's domed Sanctuary has seating capacity of up to 250, far exceeding the capacity of the current Council Chambers at City Hall.
While Calvary's building square footage appears to exceed the needs of City Hall, its parking capacity does not. Calvary's buildings sit on only 1.8 acres, leaving little room for a parking lot. The City Hall property is more than 3 acres, and contains a parking lot with sufficient capacity for both City employees and attendees of public meetings. Opus' original proposal called for a public parking garage on the site of what is now Calvary's High School, about 1-1/2 blocks from the Sanctuary. That lot would still be required, but its location would be less convenient to a relocated City Hall.
Mike Sanders, Vice President of the Clearwater Historical Society, heard about the land-swap idea recently and called it "a wonderful creative idea of adaptive reuse." He said, "One of the hallmarks of preservation is adaptive reuse, keeping the exterior historic integrity of the building and renovating the interior to meet current needs."
While only a concept at this point, saving the Calvary Sanctuary has found favor among Clearwater's elected officials. Vice Mayor Bill Jonson said, "There's a real benefit in preserving those elements that connect you to your past and define who you are as a City. Calvary Baptist Church is one of those things that are unique about Clearwater."
Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "I would like to go to any reasonable lengths to retain the Dome." Regarding the land-swap concept, he said, "I would be all for it as long as we could meet the City's needs in terms of square footage."
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