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Minus City Hall deal, site garners interest

After his offer fell through, the developer of the Corey Avenue property does not even want to sell to the city.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- Several national chain restaurants are interested in developing the Corey Avenue property that until a few months ago was to be the site of a new City Hall.

Property owner and developer Paul Skipper confirmed on Friday what Mayor Ward Friszolowski reported to the City Commission on Tuesday. He would not identify the restaurants, but said they were not fast food chains and would be a worthy addition to the city's commercial sector.

"They appear serious about the property. One is having its architects draw up plans," Skipper said. In addition, he has a purchase contract in hand for "over $1-million," and is talking with several other developers about leasing the property.

Skipper said he has no deadline for making a decision on the future of the Corey Avenue site and is sensitive to the city's desire for an appropriate use of the property.

He does not think, however, that there will be a revival of anything similar to his earlier deal to donate the land to the city, which would have financed the building of a new City Hall on the site. In fact, he isn't even interested in selling the property to the city. Some have suggested the city should buy the property.

"I really don't want to get back in that situation with the city," Skipper said. "I don't want to deal with the bad perceptions (of selling something he was earlier willing to give away). It's just too bad that about 10 people have ruined something good for the 9,000 people in the city. And the City Council stood by and watched them do it."

City Manager Carl Schwing and the mayor have met "several times" with Skipper in the past few weeks to discuss the future of the site, and the "terms and conditions" that Skipper would need to "let the property be available" to the city.

"We have not come to an agreement on anything that would be palatable to the city. The sticking point is the price," Schwing said.

"I think the commission is ready for a workshop. We need to decide what we are going to do," Schwing said.

"They have a couple of different restaurants looking at the property," Friszolowski said during a commission meeting Tuesday. "It's not good for a City Hall scenario, but it's exciting for Corey Avenue and our tax rolls."

The commission took no action on Tuesday. Instead, the commission decided to "hold tight," pending further information on Skipper's plans.

Vice Mayor Jim Myers said the site "is the most ideal piece of property available in the city today," adding that whatever the commission decides about its City Hall, it should consider "purchasing and banking" the property for future city use.

Skipper has agreed that he will inform the city "as a courtesy" when he decides what will be done with the property, but stressed that in no way would it be an offer of first refusal.

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