DUNEDIN — The tangled saga of the historic Fenway Hotel opened a new chapter Friday as the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America announced its purchase of the iconic property for $2.8 million.
The long-shuttered hotel on the 6.4-acre parcel at 453 Edgewater Drive, along the Intracoastal Waterway, dates back to the 1920s.
"It's a jewel," said Sean Dennison, the society's executive director. "It fits our needs and functions in an important way."
The society will relocate its national headquarters from Tallahassee to Dunedin and open an international conference center on the site, Dennison said.
The 42,000-member society has chapters in 26 countries and about 6,000 participants in the United States dedicated to the practice of the Taoist arts, including Tai Chi, a centuries-old form of slow-moving, Chinese-influenced exercise.
The society has been interested in the property for at least a year, but it had a rival. A Pennsylvania-based development team wanted to raze the historic hotel and build a new complex, which would have included condos and a 90-room boutique hotel. The Dunedin City Commission passed ordinances paving the way for that plan, but it fell through.
PNC Bank, which was foreclosing on the property, declined to comment.
The society plans to restore the hotel, not tear it down, Dennison said.
"We want to preserve and really reinvigorate such a historic treasure," he said.
The group doesn't yet have a firm idea of how much that will cost, but previous estimates ran to the millions. The Fenway, an all-wood structure that is caving from water damage, lacks fire-protection devices.
Some Dunedin residents have protested that a nonprofit group like the society won't boost tax revenue and tourism.
On Friday, Dennison said he interpreted those concerns as "curiosity" about his group and promised to keep residents informed.
Dunedin officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent years, the fate of the Fenway has been closely watched in Dunedin. In 2006, George Rahdert, a St. Petersburg lawyer who represents the Tampa Bay Times, bought the property from Schiller International University, planning to restore and expand it into a 132-room high-end resort, but the recession soon afterward helped scuttle the project into foreclosure.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.