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Gandy/Sun Bay South: Developer woos and wins yacht basin vote

Promises, pledges and advance fees sway the City Council to approve a residential and commercial project.

By SHERRI DAY
Published October 22, 2004

The battle over a mixed-use project at the Imperial Yacht Basin is finally over.

Pinellas developer Grady Pridgen last week snatched victory from the Gandy Civic Association, which fought to limit the development's size.

For nearly two months, Pridgen lobbied the City Council, neighboring business owners and residents in Sun Bay South to support a rezoning application increasing the project's size.

The council approved Pridgen's proposal 5-2 with some members saying that restricting the development would not halt growth in the neighborhood or solve infrastructure problems.

Pridgen pledged to build a development that would make the neighborhood proud.

"I'm a newcomer to Tampa, but I do have a very good track record of being a very good developer," he said. Pridgen is known as a upscale developer in St. Petersburg. As part of his proposal, Pridgen promised to spend $5-million on improvements, including sewer upgrades, intersection improvements and new sidewalks.

During one appearance before the council, he brought a $1-million check - part of the $5-million - to pay transportation impact fees in advance if members voted in his favor.

Before the council voted last week, John Dingfelder, who represents the district, said the $5-million did not sway him to support the project.

"Five-million dollars is an extremely impressive number by itself," Dingfelder said. "But on a per-unit basis, it's not as overwhelming and it's not as big a burden on this developer as I believe they've tried to make it out to be."

Pridgen maintained that he could not afford the $5-million in improvements if the council denied his request to increase the number of units in the project. He could, however, still build a smaller development in accordance with the project's original zoning. But the improvements would not be part of that plan.

Dingfelder and council member Rose Ferlita voted against the development. Council members Kevin White, Linda Saul-Sena, Mary Alvarez, Gwen Miller and Shawn Harrison supported it.

Al Steenson, president of the Gandy Civic Association, said he was disappointed with the council's decision. The association had met with Pridgen earlier in the week and offered to support his proposal if he would reduce its size by 150 units. Pridgen refused.

Under the new zoning, Pridgen plans to build 750 residential units and 95,000 square feet of commercial space, including 15,000 square feet of retail, 70,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail and a 200-room hotel.

Pridgen expects to finish the first building within two years and complete the entire project by 2012.

- Sherri Day can be reached at 226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 21, 2004, 13:53:21]

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