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Former site of Jesse's to be sold

Jesse’s Seafood House, still called Jesse’s Landing by many, closed in 1998. A judge ordered the land sold with proceeds going to BB&T.

Times files (1998)

Jesse’s Seafood House, still called Jesse’s Landing by many, closed in 1998. A judge ordered the land sold with proceeds going to BB&T.

SEMINOLE — A court has ordered the sale of property where the landmark Jesse's Landing restaurant was once located.

The sale comes as the result of a foreclosure action filed last April by North Carolina-based Branch Banking and Trust against Bethesda Developers, a Florida company that wanted to build upscale townhomes on the site on Park Boulevard, across the street from Lake Seminole.

Bethesda had fallen behind on payments to BB&T for two loans, leaving a bit more than $3.8 million owed as of March 5, court records show. The sale is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 26 at the St. Petersburg Judicial Building, 545 First Ave. N.

The foreclosure and sale are the latest events in the increasingly tortured history of the once popular restaurant opened in April 1986 by Jesse Johnson, a founder of the city of Seminole. Johnson also established Seminole Mall.

The 14,400-square-foot restaurant had about 400 seats and served seafood, steaks, salads and desserts at moderate prices in a cozy, waterfront setting. It had private rooms that were often reserved for wedding rehearsal dinners.

Its location at 10400 Park Blvd., just east of the intersection of Seminole Boulevard, made it a perfect landmark when giving directions to the city.

And although the name was eventually changed to Jesse's Seafood House, the old name stuck when residents spoke of the restaurant.

The restaurant was sold to Jesse's son, Richard C. Johnson, in 1987. Then, in July 1998, the business abruptly closed with no explanation. Two years later, a small fire, blamed on lightning, broke out in the deserted building. And in December 2000, with no explanation, the building was demolished.

Richard C. Johnson died in 2001 and his estate held the property until 2003 when it sold to Lofts on the Park for about $1.7 million. The company proposed building 66 three-story townhomes on the property.

But that never happened and the 8-acre site was put on the market.

Belleair Capital Group considered buying the property but backed out after a soil survey concluded that building on the site would be complicated by the presence of "potentially deleterious materials" that included debris that had been used to fill the site.

"It is my understanding that it was used as a dump back in the 1950s," said Mark Ely, Seminole's community development director.

Bethesda bought the land for about $3.5 million in 2005 intending to proceed with the townhome project. Bethesda changed its plans and, in 2007, asked the city to change the zoning to allow a commercial development.

The Seminole council tentatively agreed, provided the commercial project included a hotel and an access to the Home Depot next door without sending drivers back onto Park Boulevard.

"That's where it died," Ely said.

Instead, Bethesda was unable to meet its mortgage payments and BB&T foreclosed.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Former site of Jesse's to be sold 04/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 4:33pm]
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