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Judge appointee to clean up "public safety hazard" at Fenway Hotel in Dunedin

DUNEDIN -- A judge has appointed a Tampa-based firm to oversee upkeep of the deteriorating Fenway Hotel while it is entangled in foreclosure proceedings.

Officials anticipate the move will help cure concerns from residents, law enforcement, firefighters, the bank and the city about repeated vandalism, trespassing and code violations at the Dunedin waterfront landmark.

City officials say the appointee, Bruce Keene, has already begun meeting with Dunedin code enforcement to establish a regular maintenance schedule.

"In its current condition, there are a number of code violations, so we plan on cleaning those up and securing the property,” said Keene, president of Franklin Street Management Services, a full-service commercial real estate and property management firm. “There are no big plans for improvement or anything right now. It’s just a matter of getting control and preserving the property as it is.”

Pinellas Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino appointed Keene last month at the urging of PNC Bank, which postponed an April foreclosure action while it completed a corporate merger, overtaking RBC Bank.

PNC officials said in a emergency motion for a receiver that  they hadn’t been able to reset the auction date because developer George Rahdert ignored their requests to access, inspect and appraise 453 Edgewater Drive as needed to make sound bidding decisions.

The bank couldn’t legally access the property because Rahdert technically still owns the hotel.

Rahdert, who had envisioned restoring the 1920s hotel to its heyday, purchased the hotel for $8 million in 2006. But the project was derailed and Rahdert now owes the bank $10.8 million in loans, interest and other fees. In an interview with the Times, Rahdert denied PNC’s claims that he has been uncooperative.

PNC said in court papers that the Fenway poses a "public safety hazard" and that its condition is diminishing its value.

The bank listed the concerns of Dunedin’s former fire marshal about broken windows and dismantled fire safety devices.

The bank also cited the 23-page code enforcement violation notice that Dunedin sent to Rahdert in January. Photos accompanying the violation document the graffiti, trash and signs of neglect that officials say is blighting the neighborhood.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office says it responded to the hotel at least six times regarding alarms, juvenile trespassers, suspicious persons and vehicles between January and April 5, when a deputy discovered a transient living in a second-floor room.

Deputies noted that debris and sharp objects on the floor and hanging from the ceiling pose an extreme danger to anyone who ventures inside.

According to Rahdert, the state has preliminarily approved recommending that the hotel be placed on the National Register of Historic Places once renovation work begins. For a time, it was the site of Schiller International University.

If a third-party investor fails to outbid PNC at auction, the lender will take back possession of the property, giving the bank authority to start negotiating with potential buyers.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito wouldn’t give specifics but said at least one serious buyer is eyeing the property and has been in talks with the bank.

“It’s, from what we can see, a very legitimate hotel developer with experience in renovations. And that’s exactly the type of person we want interested,” DiSpirito said, “so we’re going to nurture that and keep our fingers crossed.”

--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 4:39pm]


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