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Madeira warmly greets hotel plan

City officials hear about plans for the $10-million hotel project. A consultant calls it a "catalyst.''

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 29, 2001


MADEIRA BEACH -- Local businessman Sid Rice and the City Commission will work together on a plan that would pave the way for Rice's $80-million hotel, yacht club and convention center.

Commissioners hope the project, which would include redevelopment on both the beach and bay sides of Gulf Boulevard, will spur redevelopment along other blighted sections of Gulf Boulevard.

To make it possible, city commissioners, as well as the Pinellas County Council and the state Department of Community Affairs, must approve a series of changes to the city's comprehensive plan. Current city zoning and land-use restrictions would prevent the construction of such a large hotel, the most significant new hotel project in Pinellas County in 10 years.

On Tuesday, when Rice attorney Tim Ferguson formally presented the plan to the City Commission for the first time, commissioners were enthusiastic.

James Moore, a consultant who helped Madeira Beach devise a vision for its future several months ago, told commissioners that the hotel could have far-reaching effects.

"This catalyst project is going to cause change around it," he said. "You want to be in control of that change."

Now that a developer has stepped forward with a plan that commissioners think will match their vision for Madeira Beach, Moore said, their job will be much easier.

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to hire the city's engineering consultant, Jones Edmunds and Associates, to conduct a traffic engineering study and determine what infrastructure needs the project would require. The study will cost $50,000; Rice has agreed to pay for $30,000.

The consultant will be working directly for the city despite Rice's role in paying the company, City Manager Mike Bonfield said.

In his presentation to commissioners, Ferguson described the grandiose plan that would replace all structures between 131st and 133rd avenues on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, as well as one hotel on the beach side. The project would include 350 hotel rooms and a pedestrian bridge that would connect the two properties.

"This pedestrian overpass can be used by residents as well as hotel guests," Ferguson said.

The walkover would help with another dilemma in Madeira Beach: how to get pedestrians across Gulf Boulevard and into John's Pass Village.

Rice will not reveal who is involved in the company who owns the properties, called Hondur Inc. He said he is helping the group amass the properties and get the project off the ground. Initially, they had planned to bring a hotel, bank and retail space to the area.

They have now settled on a plan they think will better complement the existing John's Pass Village, where the city has focused much of its attention in the past two years.

"We don't want to compete with the Village," Ferguson said. "We want to be compatible with the village. We want to be an extension of the village."

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