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John's Pass redevelopment project at a crawl

TREASURE ISLAND — Plans for a $15 million redevelopment on the south side of John's Pass are big, but in nearly a year little has happened to make them real.

Sid Rice, spokesman for Rice Family Holdings, which owns the nearly 10-acre tract that brackets Gulf Boulevard on the northern tip of the city, confirmed Monday that the project is still active but negotiations with an investor are not yet final.

"We are still working on it. It takes time to finalize," Rice said.

Jack Bodziak, an architect who is working closely with the investor, Dr. Robert A. Baker, confirmed Baker and Rice resolved a legal dispute over money Baker already invested in the redevelopment.

A pending foreclosure action is one of the remaining issues holding up the project, he said.

"We started on designs for the hotel, but are waiting for the deal (between Rice and Baker) to be closed before going any farther," Bodziak said.

Last summer, Bodziak reported that several hotel groups were interested in building a major hotel on the site.

Rice and Bodziak said this week that efforts to secure a casino boat that would be docked at John's Pass are on hold pending resolution of the planned redevelopment.

Rice recently renewed his business license to operate a casino boat to maintain his ability to again offer offshore gambling out of John's Pass.

"We haven't secured a boat yet," Rice said.

Meanwhile, demolition of old and deteriorating buildings, including the old Kingfish restaurant, on the east side of Gulf Boulevard just off Sunshine Lane is complete and the site is clear for redevelopment.

Much of the area directly along the east side of Gulf Boulevard is slated to become a 500-space parking lot.

However, no demolition has started on the west side of Gulf Boulevard at the mouth of John's Pass, where a planned $1.5 million Rock House Grille and Cabanas are slated to be located.

Public discussions for redeveloping the Rice property on John's Pass started in March 2011. At that time, the complex was to include an amusement arcade and tourist attraction, as well as updated docks and marina.

Since then, the first floor of the nearly 20-year-old Gators Cafe & Saloon was completely renovated, including new flooring and a granite-topped bar.

A site plan and special exception for the Rock House part of the project was approved by the city's Planning Board in August 2011, but building permits have yet to be pulled.

Under city rules, work on the project must start within a year of site plan approval. If development slips past that date, an extension or new site plan approval would be required.

The site plan calls for a family-oriented beach restaurant and bar, a wading pool, water fountain and 17 cabanas for sunbathers on the beach.

The planning board tied its approval for the project to limiting hours of operation to ensure the restaurant would not become a late-night destination, banning outside music and requiring a traffic pattern to minimize intrusion into the nearby Sunshine Beach neighborhood.

In November, the project was put on hold pending resolution of a legal dispute between the Rice family and Baker.

The original contract called for the Rice property to be sold to Baker's company for $7.5 million, most of which would be used to assume several existing first mortgages. The Rice family would receive $2 million in cash and be granted a 25 percent ownership of the new development company.

Bodziak said once the sale closes, the partnership can move ahead in attracting a major hotel, extending and upgrading the boardwalk along the pass, creating new retail shops and recreational and tourist attractions and bringing a gambling boat back to John's Pass.

John's Pass redevelopment project at a crawl 02/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 5:12pm]
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