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Publix lined up for long-vacant Nielsen site in Dunedin

DUNEDIN — The long-vacated Nielsen property that Dunedin officials had hoped would draw a large corporation to the city is instead on track to become home to a Publix store.

Final plans aren't in, but public records reveal that developers have appeared before the city's Development Review Committee to seek the city staff's guidance on potential plans to open a 39,000-square-foot Publix at 375 Patricia Ave. by 2014.

That's a "disappointment" for Pinellas County economic development officials who had counted on the land yielding a big economic boost for the region.

It also has upset several residents who have heard the development rumors and already protested to City Hall about the potential impact on other grocers or neighborhood traffic.

Dunedin officials, however, say the proposed store would bring jobs and convenience for residents, help generate revenue for surrounding merchants, and combat the deterioration and vandalism that's steadily turning the vacant property into an eyesore.

"The property's been dormant for nearly 10 years and it's really strained the other businesses on Patricia, especially restaurants," said City Manager Rob DiSpirito. "I think having some activity there will generate a lot of consumer traffic and make this a destination again."

According to the committee's Oct. 25 minutes, the meeting was attended by two representatives with Paradise Ventures, a Safety Harbor company that specializes in the development and third-party management of real estate for retail, including Publix and Walgreens. They and city officials discussed items including parking, drainage and landscaping.

So far, the developer has only been in talks with the city and has yet to submit an official site plan or architectural renderings.

City officials said the store is envisioned as the anchor in a complex that would house other retail, as well as potential restaurants or a bank on outlying parcels located along Patricia Avenue.

Paradise Ventures would purchase about 16 or 17 acres of the roughly 22.5-acre tract, formerly occupied by Nielsen Media Research and Bright House Networks, from Wells Fargo, said Dunedin economic development director Bob Ironsmith.

Publix, he said, would lease a 12-acre portion of that to include the store and, according to meeting minutes, 205 parking spaces. Based on market conditions, Ironsmith said, the retailer is also considering renting three office buildings of 5,000 square feet each that would be built to the north of the property as part of a second phase.

Aside from what Paradise is buying, Wells Fargo owns 5 acres and the city owns 1 acre of the 22.5-acre parcel.

If Paradise Ventures and Publix go forward with their plans, the Patricia property's zoning would have to be changed from light industrial/office to retail. The immediate neighborhood would be notified and public hearings before the local planning agency and City Commission would be required.

Neither Paradise Ventures nor Publix representatives responded to requests for comment.

The proposed Publix represents a departure from earlier plans for the former Nielsen site, which sits along a corridor that city officials had cited as a target for major redevelopment over the next decade.

In 2005, Nielsen, known for its TV ratings service, moved 1,600 employees from Dunedin to Oldsmar and sold the biggest single property in the city to prominent Pinellas developer Grady Pridgen. But after years of Pridgen failing to repay loans or back taxes, Wachovia and then Wells Fargo took the complex and listed it for sale.

Dunedin and Pinellas County economic development officials immediately focused on attracting another high-wage company in industries like financial services, life sciences and health, alternative energy or information technology — sectors that don't necessarily rely on close proximity to airports or major vehicular arteries. Officials also touted the surrounding residential area's large labor pool as a potential draw.

But officials say a number of factors — including the Nielsen building's high original listing price and large size, outdated interior architecture, repair and replacement needs — made it a tough sell.

They say Wells Fargo got the ball rolling when it acquired the 22.5-acre property and agreed to break it into three parcels.

"We spent considerable time and energy trying to get a corporation to locate its headquarters here and nothing panned out," Ironsmith said. "This (Publix) opportunity became more feasible and still will create quite a bit of jobs and economic value to the city. I wouldn't want to see the property lay vacant for another five years."

Pinellas economic development director Mike Meidel called the tentative plans "a disappointment" but acknowledged Dunedin's valiant effort and difficulties.

A Publix might meet the needs and goals of the city and its residents, however, "economic development is targeted at bringing in high-wage companies that sell products or have their market outside the area, whereas a grocery store or retailer would tend to recycle within the community," Meidel said. "It doesn't increase the prosperity for the entire county or the region."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153.

Publix lined up for long-vacant Nielsen site in Dunedin 12/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 7:42pm]
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