Mayor seeks end to Landing impasse

The developers of Main Street Landingwant financing help. The city balked at first but will revisit the proposal.

Published July 7, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - Facing mounting public pressure to prevent a downtown construction project from shutting down, the City Council will revisit the idea of helping finance the development.

Mayor Dan Tipton on Wednesday called for a special public meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. July 17.

At issue is the proposal by Main Street Landing developers to use future tax revenue generated by the project to repay a $4-million bond used for the project's drainage system, roads, public parking and other infrastructure. Add in financing charges and other fees, and the project would need nearly $6.7-million to repay the debt.

In a 3-2 vote, the council last month rejected that proposal. As a result, developer Ken McGurn said he would close down the construction site and wait for prices to stabilize.

At the meeting Wednesday night, Tipton said the council needs to take another shot at the project, which is widely seen as the centerpiece of downtown revitalization efforts.

"It's something we need to get settled, one way or the other," Tipton said. "We need to make our best efforts to go forward."

McGurn and partner Peter Altman, a former city mayor and Pasco County commissioner, had asked the city for the additional help after construction costs of the retail and residential complex at the gateway to downtown had soared from $17-million to $33-million.

Altman, who attended the Wednesday night meeting, said he will attend the July 17 meeting.

McGurn, who did not know about the meeting, said on Thursday he had a previously scheduled vacation and could not attend.

"I think any move by the council in this direction would be very positive in the long run," he said. "So we thank them for that."

McGurn added that he could not say for sure what he would do if the council makes a decision favorable to the developers.

"It increases the probability of coming back sooner rather than later," he said.

While the council members who voted against the proposal - Tom Lackey, Marilynn deChant and Matthew McCaffery - say they've received messages of support from constituents, they also have faced sharp criticism.

Much of that criticism has come at recent council meetings from dozens of business owners and residents dressed in red shirts as a show of solidarity.

Katie Jones, who is building a home in New Port Richey, told the council Wednesday that she was busy collecting signatures calling for a public forum to discuss the matter. So far, she said she has collected about 125 signatures.

Also on Wednesday night, Chuck Grey, a local Realtor who comes from one of the city's oldest and most prominent families, spoke out publicly against the council decision for the first time. He told council members that if they didn't step up and make a move, "you're making a bad, bad decision."

To have a construction site sit idle at the entrance to downtown "would be such a wet blanket on everything else we're doing," he said in an interview Thursday.

Grey, who said he has no connections to Main Street Landing, said the project's magnitude and location prompted him to speak out.

"If the project was stuck on Congress Street, that would be the developer's problem," he said. But Main Street Landing "is the city's problem because of where it's located."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.