Olds Square plan dusted off

The developer wants the city to be a partner in paying what could be a $100-million price tag.

By TERRI BRYCE REEVES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007

OLDSMAR - Two years ago, the proposed Olds Square project was hailed as a signature showpiece that would attract new residents, energize a sleepy downtown and boost the city's tax rolls with millions of dollars.

Today the project is little more than a pile of discarded proposals and renderings in the office of Dr. Doug Weiland, physician and developer.

But Weiland, chief executive officer of JES Properties in Clearwater, told the City Council this week he still wants to make the project work.

"I want to be partners with you guys," he said during a council work session on the project. "I want this to be a showcase project, but I can't finance it unless there is a profit."

He pleaded for direction.

"Give me your criteria and I'll build the model and see if I can make it work," he said. "Instead of throwing spaghetti on the wall, tell me what you want."

In response, council members appeared ready to hire an outside consultant to give them an independent opinion on what the city could reasonably contribute to the project, depending on how Weiland configures it. But that report is not expected to be ready before the end of October.

Since 2005, when the city chose Weiland to build Olds Square, the price tag on the proposed 500,000-square-foot mixed-use project has risen from $64-million to possibly $100-million, the condo market has tanked and the city has tightened its purse strings.

Weiland said he can still build a showpiece with stores, offices, homes, hotel rooms, convention facilities and parking space, but he needs the city's help.

"It's not feasible unless it's a partnership in lots of ways," he said.

One suggestion he had was for the city to pay for the $12-million parking structure, either as part of Olds Square or at a nearby location.

"If the city would do that, I am 99 percent sure I could keep it the highest portion of the project to six stories and make it work," he said after the meeting.

The city's current zoning allows for six stories; the council has rejected previous proposals for 10- and 12-story buildings.

Other forms of assistance he suggested include:

- A share of Oldsmar's future tax-increment financing revenues. (Inside the city's tax-increment financing district, property tax revenue generated by growth in the district is directed toward redevelopment projects.)

- Donations of about $1.3-million worth of city-owned land.

- Impact fee credits worth up to about $1-million.

- Relief on how tall the project could be.

But City Manager Bruce Haddock shook his head.

"I don't see us coming up with $12-million," he said.

Mayor Jim Ronecker agreed.

"You guys show us what works where we're a partner, but not such a big financial partner," he said.

Vice Mayor Suzanne Vale suggested the city take money set aside for widening of Shore Drive and spend it on this project instead.

Council member Greg Rublee worried about the additional staffing and equipment needed by the Fire Department should a high-rise be built.

Council member Eric Seidel said he'd be willing to entertain the idea of going for two more stories if it meant the city could keep future tax increment financing money.

"What's the shortfall look like at eight stories?' he asked the developers.

"The citizens killing us," council member Janice Miller said.

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com