Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin's historic Fenway hotel is latest victim of struggling economy

29

March

DUNEDIN -- The historic Fenway hotel is the latest Dunedin development project to fall victim to the struggling economy.

Records show RBC Bank hopes to sell the foreclosed downtown waterfront property for $10.8 million - the amount developer George Rahdert owes in loans, interest and other fees.

But Rahdert doubts the building he bought for $8 million six years ago, just ahead of the economic downturn, will sell for that much. Records show the property is now assessed at $2 million.

Over the years, Rahdert says, he has sunk tens of thousands of dollars into the property for things like architectural planning, repairs and regular lawn mowing as he scrambled to secure another buyer, business partner or other funding source to turn the Fenway into a high-end resort.

Now he stands to lose even more. If the 6.4-acre tract at 453 Edgewater Drive is auctioned off for less than $10.8 million, Rahdert will have to make up the difference. That's on top of the $187,000 in unpaid property taxes he already owes.

The online auction is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at pinellas.realforeclose.com.

"I hope that the party who buys the property will continue to make the effort to turn it into what it can be, which is a beautifully preserved historic building that will bring a high level of tourism and community opportunities to the city of Dunedin," Rahdert told the Times.

"A well-done hotel is a huge amenity to a neighborhood," he added, pointing to the success of the Loews Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach and Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. "I hope and pray that the Fenway can be that kind of positive force for the Dunedin community."

Rahdert purchased the 1920s hotel in 2006 from Schiller International University with dreams of revamping the space into a 132-room high-class resort with ballrooms, common spaces and fine dining.

The developer quickly encountered what he calls a "calamity of errors" in the form of neighbors who protested an expansion and former city officials who delayed redevelopment.

Once the project got back on track, Rahdert was again stymied after a self-proclaimed hotel magnate backed out of a contract promising to spend $12.5 million to buy the land, pay off Rahdert's investment and finance the remaining redevelopment costs.

The BP oil spill, which hurt the Florida tourism industry, and the continued recession further hampered Rahdert's efforts, he said.

Within the last year, Rahdert said, he and his associates presented a buyer to the bank, but the bank rejected the $7.1 million offer.

"The bank is in the driver's seat, and it'll be potluck on who buys it," said Rahdert, who is also a St. Petersburg-based attorney who represents the Tampa Bay Times on First Amendment and business issues. He says he has worked on more than 20 other preservation projects.

Other Dunedin-based construction projects recently affected by the economic crunch include:

  • The Gateway project. After struggling for five years to secure commercial tenants and financing for the $30 million mixed-use project, the City Commission recently gave developers an extra nine months to explore a new direction. Instead of offices, retail and about 30 rental units anchored by a gourmet market, developers are now suggesting more than 100 apartments with the first floor still devoted to retail, restaurants and perhaps a pharmacy.
  • Arcadia Apartments. The developer spent two unsuccessful years trying to pre-sale or get bank financing for condos. Late last year, he decided to change course and instead build an apartment complex on the vacant Dunedin Causeway site. The developer abandoned the idea, however, after finding out state zoning laws forbid him from building the number of units he wanted. He's reportedly considering a different project on the site, though.

Another hot topic at City Hall lately has been whether to change the calculation on a park impact fee, which critics say is so expensive that it deters new developers from building in Dunedin.

--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 4:41pm]

    

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