Study gives development projects new lease on life

Clearwater -

Dunedin officials hope a marketing analysis study will provide a new lease on life to property owners looking to develop long-vacant parcels in the city’s downtown Community Redevelopment District.

A major focus of the city’s study is to spark development on vacant properties where there was once envisioned large-scale projects, which fell victim to the economic downturn.

The study will cost the city $12,000.

One part of the study will be to examine which types of business would be viable downtown for the few remaining parcels. Perhaps more importantly, the study will also provide statistics that will help secure financing from banks and institutions still not eager to lend, Economic and Housing Development Director Bob Ironsmith said.

Information in the report will also show developers which retail niches might be tapped and what type of businesses or retail chains might be more eager to lease space, he added.

The good news is that even in the midst of an economic downturn, the city enjoys a vibrant downtown with virtually no retail, restaurant or tavern space now available along Main Street or neighboring Broadway. Any existing commercial space that comes available in those downtown areas is quickly grabbed up by aspiring entrepreneurs or existing business owners looking to expand, the economic development director noted.

One of the biggest parcels the city wants to jump-start is the area along Main Street at Milwaukee Avenue once dubbed the Gateway by developer The Pizzuti Companies. According to Ironsmith, the latest renderings propose a project with 124 studio and one-bedroom apartments, along with 24,000 square feet of retail space.

The latest plan to develop the Gateway “should fill a housing niche,” Ironsmith explained. The apartments will sit above and behind the retail component along Main Street.

Ironsmith said the city and developer continued to support the project which has been in various stages of development for the last seven years, due to the nation’s economic downtown. It is back on track now that the economy seems to be coming back.

A thriving downtown business community, together with information gathered by the city’s marketing analysis, could enable the developer to move forward with attracting financing and retail tenants, he added.

“We are seeing the beginning of an economic turnaround,” he said, noting Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov’s estimate that property values may rise by 5 rather than 3 percent.

“Investors are interested in developing again,” Ironsmith said.

He noted the joint venture between Joseph Kokolakis and JMC Communities that proposes to construct Victoria Place at 200 Main Street, near Dunedin Marina. The developers plan to construct 30 luxury condominiums along with 8,000 square feet of retail space. The project is on a parcel that has been long-vacant, since a plan by former developers to build a condominium tower fell during the recent recession.

Another project that appears to have a new lease on life is a proposal by James W. Bower and Christy A. Bower to reconstruct a replica of the former Fenway Hotel a few blocks south of downtown on Edgewater Drive.

They asked the city to enter into a development agreement to recreate the historic Fenway Hotel. The new structure will be built to current building codes, while providing a very similar frontal design to the original 1925 architecture. The developers envision an 85-room boutique style hotel, conference space and 36 town homes, with a pool in the middle of the complex.

Ironsmith said reopening the Fenway will greatly increase the number of much needed motel rooms near the downtown core.

Available properties just blocks away from Man Street include:

• Two acres across the street from the Dunedin Brewery on Douglas Avenue;

• A 1.9 acre vacant lot on Wood Street;

• 6/10ths of an acre owned by Ocean Optical at Douglas Avenue and Main Street, currently used for parking;

• A building one block north of Main Street on Monroe, a vacant lot near Scotland Street and other small properties.

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