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    Nielsen details plan for Oldsmar

    No decision has been made on the future of the company's headquarters in Dunedin.

    By RICHARD DANIELSON

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 4, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- While continuing to hedge its bets on the future of its Dunedin headquarters, Nielsen Media Research this week filed plans with the city of Oldsmar for a 35-acre corporate campus in the city's industrial district.

    If the company can come to terms with developer Harrod Properties on buying the land and can get the city to approve its site plans, it intends to move 400 employees now scattered at three satellite operations to a new building at the Brooker Creek Corporate Center next to the Tampa Bay Park of Commerce.

    "Moving to Oldsmar is our first choice if we can make the deal happen," Nielsen Media vice president of communications Jack Loftus said. "But right now we don't have a deal."

    The employees who would go to Oldsmar include those at Nielsen's offices at the Highland Commons and Bay Vista office centers. Nielsen employees who work in the Weathersfield building in Dunedin would not be affected by the initial consolidation.

    Loftus said no decision has been made about moving nearly 1,000 other employees from the company's headquarters on Patricia Avenue. Consequently, Nielsen executives are continuing to consider alternatives in the Tampa Bay area, including keeping the company's headquarters in Dunedin, Loftus said.

    Moreover, the company wants the city of Oldsmar to waive regulations on building height for its proposed four-story office building. The city allows buildings no taller than 35 feet. Nielsen's building would be 74 feet tall at its highest point.

    Nielsen's application proposes a 541,724-square-foot building -- more than twice the size of the Wal-Mart supercenter now under construction in Oldsmar -- but Loftus said the building for the initial consolidation of satellite offices would require a 168,000-square-foot building. A decision whether to build the rest of the project would be made later, he said.

    "That is for the entire campus," Loftus said of the larger number. "We may or may not get there."

    The company also wants Oldsmar officials to okay 31 handicapped parking spaces in its parking lots, which would have a total of 2,100 spaces, instead of the 105 required by city code. Thirty-one spaces would meet requirements set by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, but not the city's more demanding specifications.

    Neither representatives of Harrod Properties nor high-ranking Oldsmar officials who will be doing the initial review of the site plan could be reached for comments late Friday.

    Local officials have been expecting Nielsen to move from Dunedin to Oldsmar since late June. Dunedin officials were disappointed at the prospect of losing the company, while Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland has described the coup as a "gold mine" for the city.

    Nielsen has kept track of the country's television ratings from its Dunedin headquarters on Patricia Avenue since 1974. Nielsen owns the property but has outgrown its 210,000-square-foot building.

    Worried that they would lose the city's largest employer, Dunedin officials campaigned to encourage Nielsen to stay. Last fall, Mayor Tom Anderson and two city staff members went to the company's New York office to make a pitch.

    The city's offer included $2.9-million in tax and development incentives, as well as a promise to build an 1,800-space parking lot the company would lease from the city.

    Anderson said Friday evening that it does not sound like the company's plans have changed.

    "Based upon the last meeting, the last luncheon we had, it sounded like someone at the corporate level had made the decision to go in that direction," Anderson said of the Oldsmar move.

    "They indicated that they were probably going to be doing this in phases," Anderson said. "Phase one would be the satellite operations. Phase two, which might be four or five years down the road, would be the remaining part."

    - Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194.

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