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Jannus Landing owner concerned about historic preservation vs. development plans

ST. PETERSBURG

Tony Amico seems to have a knack for picking projects that raise the ire of residents and prompt fights with local governments.

Think of the ruckus over popular Caddy's on the Beach in Treasure Island. Or the embattled Tierra Verde Marina and hotel development.

Now it appears he may have similar, but longer-term problems with his properties at Jannus Landing.

In the first two cases, lawsuits are complicating Amico's current business plans.

In Treasure Island, after continuing resident complaints over crowds of drunken beachgoers clogging streets and acting out on their front yards, he offered to sell the beachfront bar and restaurant to the city for $8.5 million.

City commissioners were not interested, and this month a group of residents filed what Amico calls a "frivolous" lawsuit to shut him down.

On Tierra Verde, he says a Pinellas County lawsuit seeking to reverse St. Petersburg's 18-acre annexation has "ruined the value" of his property. Previously, the Tierra Verde Community Association tried to stop the annexation and fought a state permit for new marina docks.

Amico, 56, said he is frustrated by the experience and its effect on his marina, restaurant and hotel/condominium development plans. Despite an $11 million cash investment and a mortgage, he is putting the property up for sale.

Because of different city and county development regulations and uncertainty over which government will prevail, banks won't lend to develop the property, and buyers aren't willing to pay a "fair market value." Amico says he is talking to some interested buyers and expects to take a loss on the property.

Now, Amico's investment in Jannus Landing in downtown St. Petersburg could be seriously affected if the St. Petersburg City Council declares the nearby Detroit Hotel a protected historic landmark.

That action, recommended by Mayor Rick Baker and the City Community Preservation Commission, could come in February.

Amico bought Jannus Landing with a short-term goal of rejuvenating the concert venue and surrounding retail spaces. Longer term, he hopes to redevelop the block in about 10 years. A high-rise combining a hotel, residences and offices would surround the current courtyard, where "more upscale" events would be held.

"I don't think it is fair or legal to take over somebody's property and limit you to what was built a hundred years ago," Amico says. "I will definitely go to court over this. They are talking about taking away valuable rights to our property."

Amico bought the Jannus Landing property more than 10 years ago on the recommendation of architect Jack A. Bodziak.

Over the years, the venue did well but was not as successful as Amico believed it could be.

After his tenant and Jannus Landing operator, Jack C. Bodziak, the architect's son, began falling behind in his rent last year, Amico said he was forced to take back control of the property.

He is still angry about it.

"I told him (the younger Bodziak) he had to stay current. We shook hands in front of my house and agreed he had three months to get his business in order or turn over the keys," Amico said. "I gave him five months, and then it took another seven months to get control. I wish him well in what he does in the future. I hope he learned a lesson, but he did not act honorably."

Once in control, Amico quickly searched for new tenants. He bought out the remainder of the Garden's lease to accommodate the plans of the Landing's new operators, Jeff Knight, a longtime friend, and Knight's partner, Bill Edwards. The pending historic designation will not affect immediate plans for Jannus Landing, Amico says.

As Jannus Landing's landlord, Amico does not have day-to-day involvement with venue operations, but he has placed a strong bet on the future success of Knight and Edwards.

That means a lot to a man whose varied business career includes a long and largely successful history working in and running casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Amico says he fully expects the renovated Jannus Landing Courtyard will once again be a popular venue for the likes of past performers such as Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Green Day.

Jannus Landing owner concerned about historic preservation vs. development plans 12/26/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 3:30am]
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