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    Beach parking project stalls at gate

    The developer says ''the bulldozers are still revving,'' but the sale of the property is on hold and no equipment has appeared.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 30, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Near the end of August, attorney Bill Kimpton got permission to build a 155-space parking lot on the beach, selling the project to city commissioners as a stopgap measure until financing comes through for a $90-million luxury resort.

    At the time, Kimpton said construction on the lot would begin at once and predicted a finished product by the end of the year.

    Fully two months later, the bulldozers he said were on order still haven't arrived.

    On Tuesday, the owner of property Kimpton needs to build the parking lot said the sale is on hold, with no closing date scheduled. Meanwhile, Kimpton has fallen behind in payments for an extension on the 3-year-old sales contract, according to Pasha Choe, owner of Glass House Apartment Motel.

    Choe said it appears Kimpton's financing is in jeopardy.

    "I don't know what's going on," he said. "I'm waiting for any news from Mr. Kimpton. . . . For three years, he's said, 'It'll be very close.' "

    Kimpton, though, said he is ready to move forward with loans from two banks.

    "All funding is available on the table," he said. "The bulldozers are still revving."

    Kimpton blamed Choe for the delay, which he estimated as no more than a month.

    "Every time you get into something this complicated, there are a million details that need to be handled at the conclusion," he said. "That's what we're doing is finishing off the details."

    Kimpton said the holdup stemmed from Choe's interest in helping build the parking lot, rather than selling his property outright.

    But Choe said he wants to wrap up the motel sale before buying another motel in the area.

    "For three years, I couldn't take a reservation as normal," he said. "I told all my customers, 'Next year I will not be here.' "

    According to his agreement with the city, Kimpton has until the end of August 2003 to finish the lot and lease it to the city.

    Eventually, he wants to build a 250-room Marriott resort on the property at S Gulfview Boulevard. Under the deal, commissioners earmarked up to $6-million of city money to buy him out if hotel financing doesn't materialize by 2006. Balking at the buyout provision, Commissioner Bill Jonson voted against the deal.

    For other commissioners, though, much of the allure was the chance to bring parking to the area in anticipation of Beach Walk, the planned redesign of Gulf Boulevard from Pier 60, near the roundabout, south to the Adams Mark Hotel.

    Beach Walk is planned as a meandering sidewalk and road system enhanced with landscaping and designated areas for pedestrians and bike riders.

    The problem is, 270 parking spaces will disappear with Beach Walk construction, with only 50 to 70 to return when the project is complete.

    Mayor Brian Aungst has touted Kimpton's plan as a catalyst for Beach Walk.

    On Tuesday, commissioners were surprised to learn of the delay.

    "Obviously, it concerns me a little bit," said Aungst. "It's news to me. . . . Hopefully, for Kimpton's sake, he can hang in there and pull this off."

    But city officials insisted beach redevelopment is not unraveling as a result of snags with Kimpton's plans.

    "I think we can find alternative sites if need be," said Commissioner Frank Hibbard. "We've got to find the money for Beach Walk before I'm going to get too concerned on finding parking."

    Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton said the delay has a silver lining because parking spaces won't truly be needed until mid February, with the start of spring break.

    "The longer it is before they're built, the longer it is the city doesn't have to pay for them," he said.

    "Paying for them when they're generating revenue is one thing. Paying for them when they're sitting empty is another."

    -- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrell@sptimes.com.

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