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Deal set for rare Pinellas property


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Five months ago, Gov. Jeb Bush balked at paying $714,000 for a 14-acre strip of waterfront land near Fort De Soto Park, complaining that the state is "constantly being a sucker in real estate deals."

But Tuesday, Bush and the Cabinet switched gears after learning that Pinellas County will kick in $200,000 toward the cost of Cunningham Key.

Bush said his previous comments were based on bad information.

"We were told that the County Commission raised the value of this property and then asked us to buy the land," Bush said.

Within the year, the non-profit environmental research group, Tampa BayWatch, hopes to raise money and build a marine research station and an educational facility on a tiny portion of the land, which sits on either side of the Pinellas Bayway en route to Fort De Soto Park.

Most of the acreage is wetlands on either side of a skinny, mangrove-lined peninsula.

The land will also serve as a natural greenway that, one day, could be part of a bike trail network to connect the Pinellas Trail with Fort De Soto Park.

The state will pay $514,000, and Pinellas County will pay $200,000 to buy the land from Barbara Wray Suggs, a High Springs woman who owns the popular Ginnie Springs Resort near Gainesville. Suggs bought the land in two separate transactions in 1979 and 1980. Property records show she paid a total of $157,000 for the land.

A report by state analysts notes that one part of the land, which has an old, abandoned bait shop on it, could be rezoned to allow limited commercial or office development.

"This property is considered to be a scarce commodity, a buildable commercial site with direct frontage and access to deep water and the Gulf of Mexico," the state's report said. "There are few such sites remaining in Pinellas County."

Pinellas County wanted to make sure the land around Fort De Soto was preserved, said Commissioner Bob Stewart. The purchase of this piece allows the county to preserve wetlands, the shoreline, and fish and wildlife habitat.

"That pretty much gives us all of that land around Fort De Soto," he said. "This is definitely a good move on the part of the county and the state."

Times staff writer Edie Gross contributed to this report.

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