Poor economy prompts new plan for Dunedin's downtown Gateway project
DUNEDIN -- The long-awaited downtown Gateway project inched one step closer to reality last week.
In a 4-1 vote, the Dunedin City Commission gave developers with Pizzuti Builders LLC the okay to continue pursuing a plan that shifts the mixed-use project's heaviest focus away from commercial use and places greater emphasis on housing.
Conceptual plans now call for 138 upscale apartments, along with two restaurants and other ground-floor retail, on a vacant 4-acre tract at the corner of Main Street and Milwaukee Avenue.
The mixed-use complex, first approved in 2007, was initially to have mostly offices and retail anchored by an upscale grocery store. But the project faltered along with the recession, and developers have since quadrupled the amount of residential space in the project after the market for commercial tenants collapsed.
Planners say the new housing component would update Dunedin's current stock of older rental units, putting the city on pace to compete with Tampa, Clearwater, Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg for the attentions of working professionals.
Mease Dunedin Hospital nearby has also voiced a need for housing for its employees.
"Our (initial) approach was to make sure we're being part of the community and developing something that helps all of the businesses and residents here," says Jim Russell, Pizzuti executive vice president and chief operating officer. "This is an option that we think meets all of those original goals."
The commission's decision is the latest in a series of attempts to breathe life into the project.
Amid a faltering economy, the city gave developers permission to build the project in two phases in 2008. Pizzuti quickly closed on the first half of the city-owned property for $1.2 million. Last year, the City Commission granted developers a six-month extension on their September 2011 closing deadline for the second half. In March, commissioners approved another extension to give Pizzuti time to retool the project.
Under new plans, developers say the complex would primarily target young middle- to upper-class singles and couples not yet ready to leap into homeownership, as well as baby boomers looking to downsize.
The retail portion would cater to the young demographic's entertainment and living needs. Lucky Dill - a local deli chain that figures prominently in preliminary architectural drawings - has signed a letter of intent to locate in the Gateway project.
According to a market analysis, the green-certified project would generate dozens of temporary and permanent jobs, as well as thousands of dollars in annual property tax revenues.
Click here to read what city commissioners -- including Julie Scales, who cast the lone dissenting vote -- have to say about the project's new direction. Watch videotaped discussion from last week's meeting here.
--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer
Photo: Pizzuti Builders LLC/City of Dunedin