[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Though vacant, the site is considered prime real estate by many because it sits at an entry to the city.
By LEON M. TUCKER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000
DUNEDIN -- After sitting vacant for years, a key corner that is the northern gateway to downtown is being developed into a 75-room hotel that city officials say will be yet another boost for the city's thriving center.
A bulldozer cleared debris and scraped up pavement into piles Thursday preparing for construction of a $4-million Holiday Inn Express on the corner of Alt. U.S. 19 and Skinner Boulevard.
Gabriella Cacciotti, whose family also owns the Amberlee and Vermonter motels in Dunedin, said her family purchased the property for $450,000. The hotel will have a swimming pool as its main amenity, but will be built without a restaurant to encourage guests to dine downtown, said Cacciotti of Dunedin.
"We feel that we would work together with the downtown area," said Cacciotti, who spoke for her father, Nat Cacciotti, about the family's plans. "We're close enough that we hope our guests will hop on the (Pinellas) Trail, go downtown and enjoy the restaurants and the shops. I hope we complement the downtown area and become an asset to the community."
Construction on the the three-story hotel could begin as early as next week. The hotel is expected to open this fall.
The 1.5-acre site has been considered prime real estate for years because it's at one of the main entryways to downtown.
City officials, meanwhile, say they are excited the property finally will be developed and have high hopes for what it brings to the area.
"It will eliminate a very blighted corner there that has been looking shabby for some time," said John Lawrence, city manager. "Having a hotel where people can get on the trail and be in downtown within minutes will be wonderful."
A number of markets and stores have, over the years, occupied that property. A strip center was there from the late 1960s until the Department of Transportation purchased it in the 1980s with an intent to widen Alt. U.S. 19.
The road was widened, and because part of the property was cut off to make room for the expansion, interest in the spot deteriorated. It remained unused until the DOT sold the property to Loken Construction of Dunedin in 1997. Cacciotti said that in January 1999, the family purchased it from Loken for $450,000.
"It's going to be a good fit for that corner," said Bob Ironsmith, economic development director for Dunedin. "It's a pretty exciting project because it will anchor the north entry into the city and meets the need for an additional hotel and tourist facility."
In addition to the hotel, Ironsmith said, the Cacciottis will install traffic islands on Skinner and Alt. U.S. 19 -- at the request of the DOT.
And although the Holiday Inn has specific designs for this hotel, Ironsmith said, the city has offered its help with landscaping around the building to help merge the facility with downtown's look.
"What we're doing here is encouraging them to get something that will fit in," he said. "But there's no big hammer. We just want to show them how different things can be done to fit into the downtown area."