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Safety Harbor officals move to finalize deal to buy spa's land on Old Tampa Bay




By Demorris A. Lee, Times Staff Writer

SAFETY HARBOR — The City Commission unanimously voted to move forward on an agreement to buy nearly 13 acres of property that abuts Old Tampa Bay, intending to make it a city park.

Since May, Safety Harbor has been in negotiations with the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa to purchase the land. The deal is part of a financial restructuring plan to get the resort out of bankruptcy.

"It's a win-win," Commissioner Nina Bandoni said at Monday night's meeting. "It's good for Safety Harbor residents and for the spa. It would be very bad for the city if the spa ceased to operate, so this helps them and helps our residents."

Commissioner Joe Ayoub, along with other board members, thanked the city's staff for negotiating the deal.

"I feel like we pushed pretty far," Ayoub said. "Overall, I think it would be a great addition to the city to have this parkland."

William E. Touloumis, president and CEO of Olympia Development Group, which owns the 22-acre resort, was pleased with the commission's decision.

"It is moving in the right direction," he said.

Now that the commission has approved a land use agreement for the property, Safety Harbor will place $100,000 in an escrow account to set up the final purchase of the land. In addition, the commission authorized up to $13,500 for a survey of the area and $6,000 for an appraisal. The money is coming from property taxes generated from the city's Community Redevelopment Area.

The final sale price is predicated on the property appraisal. A $3.3 million city tab was presented to the commission Monday. If the appraisal comes back for more than what the city has offered, the $3.3 million offer will stand. If it's under that figure, the city can attempt to renegotiate the deal.

The property runs in a northern direction from Veterans Memorial Lane at the city's marina to Mullet Creek.

At a July 18 meeting, city commissioners required several changes to the spa's proposal before they were willing to agree to a deal. They rejected the proposal that the business be allowed to install a wedding platform or walkways on the property. The city also wanted an acre on the southern part of the land to come with no restrictions on commercial development, so the city can potentially build a restaurant or some other commercial structure there.

In addition, the city wanted the right to build a dock or pier on the property.

City staffers successfully negotiated those terms.

The resort's owners also got what they wanted in the negotiations.

The spa will get a 300-foot-wide viewing corridor between the resort and Old Tampa Bay.

Within that area, the city can't built any vertical structures or put in any landscaping taller than 4 feet without the resort's permission.

No structure taller than 35 feet can be built on the southern portion. Also, the city can't construct a spa, resort or condominiums on the land.

Last fall, the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Last month, Judge Michael G. Williamson accepted the resort's plan that moved it from bankruptcy. The plan reduces the spa's secured debt from $30 million to just under $14 million. Part of that plan is the sale of some of the spa's land to the city with the proceeds going to the spa's secured debt.

The Safety Harbor Resort and Spa is listed on state's register of historic places.

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 1:15pm]


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