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Achieva headquarters will move from Clearwater to Dunedin

The long-vacant former Nielsen Media Research call center property in Dunedin is going to be redeveloped. Achieva expects to close on the property at 1659 Virginia St., across from a current branch, on Wednesday.

City of Dunedin/Collman & Karsky Architects Inc.

The long-vacant former Nielsen Media Research call center property in Dunedin is going to be redeveloped. Achieva expects to close on the property at 1659 Virginia St., across from a current branch, on Wednesday.

Achieva Credit Union will move its corporate headquarters from Clearwater to Dunedin by October.

Achieva will consolidate its operations — currently spread across Largo, Clearwater and Palm Harbor — in a 67,000-square-foot corporate center at 1659 Virginia St., which formerly housed a Nielsen Media Research call center.

The project will include renovations to an existing building and new construction during a three-phase process to be completed by February. The new headquarters will house a call center and data center as well as 143 existing employees in accounting, lending and other administrative positions.

Achieva president and chief executive officer Gary Regoli said the move is necessary because the credit union has outgrown its 28,000-square-foot office at 1499 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater. The bank has already sold its building to iDatix, a software company poised to move in by Aug. 31.

"We have folks working in three different cities, and it would be best having them all under one roof from an efficiency standpoint. And we absolutely cannot add any more space to our existing building in Clearwater," Regoli told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday. "It's good timing for us and it's something that we just need to do."

The move marks a victory for Dunedin leaders, who have tried a number of tactics — including corridor studies, a branding campaign and a review of developer fees — to attract tourists, residents and merchants to the city amid a struggling economy.

Dunedin spent months courting Achieva, which said Dunedin emerged near the top of its short list about six months ago, in large part due to its ability to provide a large parcel in a non-evacuation zone.

Achieva's headquarters relocation won't create new jobs, but Dunedin economic development director Bob Ironsmith said the employer's workers will help restore foot traffic to grocers, gas stations and other businesses in its immediate neighborhood.

The city is also continuing to help Wells Fargo bank search for a buyer for another former Nielsen property — a larger, 23-acre parcel that has been vacant since the media ratings giant moved operations from Patricia Street to Oldsmar in 2005.

The Achieva acquisition gives city leaders hope.

"It's a big deal. It really helps diversify the city's tax base. And I think it shows how businesses value the quality of life that Dunedin has to offer," Ironsmith said. "If we can get a corporation like Achieva here, that really sets the stage. … It's like fishing — you catch one, you hope you catch more."

Achieva's new headquarters will be located across the street from an Achieva branch, which opened at 1150 Virginia St. in 2010.

The headquarters will use stone, stucco, metal sun shades and steel framing to mimic the "contemporary office building" look of the nearby branch, according to a Collman & Karsky Architects memo included with site plans submitted to the city.

Call center, data processing and lending services employees would move in during the first phase of the project, to be completed by October or November. More call center workers would move in around early December.

Accountants, training employees and other administrative offices would move following completion of the last phase in February.

Design plans include a hurricane-hardened roof, a training room, a large break room, a new generator, an atrium and an "employee-friendly" courtyard that retains oaks, magnolias and other shade trees.

Regoli said the 9.2-acre property is ideal because of its size. About 4.8 acres are currently dedicated to parking and Achieva could expand its headquarters another 50,000 square feet and still have ample space for cars.

"It's important long term for us to have that flexibility," he said.

He said not many members of the public will frequent the new building. Still, he said, credit union officials kept members in mind during the building's design.

"Since we're a credit union, our owners are our members, and we are being very cautious and thrifty with the credit union's funds," Regoli said. "So as opposed to going out and paying new construction costs, we think it makes sense for us … to not build an edifice that is more extravagant than we need. And we're more focused on utility and functionality and effectiveness."

The project won't get under way immediately, though.

The property is split into three parcels — one owned by Nielsen and two owned by Dimmitt Car Leasing Inc. Regoli said Achieva expects to close on purchasing the three parcels Wednesday.

Next, project planners must seek support from the city's local planning agency, a citizen advisory board that reviews all matters affecting the land development code. They will meet at 6:30 p.m. June 13 at City Hall, 542 Main St.

Then the City Commission must consider the project and the planning agency's recommendations during a public meeting at an as-yet-undetermined date.

Achieva has 14 branches serving more than 90,000 members throughout Pinellas and six other area counties.

Regoli said the bank achieved $1 billion in assets this March, is preparing to open a branch in Hillsborough County, and recently applied to expand into Lee and Collier counties.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Achieva headquarters will move from Clearwater to Dunedin 05/26/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 3:58pm]

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