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Key Treasure Island property sold

TREASURE ISLAND — More than 10 acres at the city's northern tip changed hands Monday, ending more than 60 years of ownership by the Rice family.

The new owner, HCI Holdings LLC, paid $8.1 million for 8.4 acres on John's Pass and the Intracoastal Waterway and 2.2 acres on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of John's Pass.

Although it is not clear whether previous redevelopment plans — including a hotel, casino boat, retail shops, boardwalk, new marina, family entertainment, and a city-approved gulf-front beach grille with cabanas — will continue exactly as planned last year, major redevelopment does appear assured.

"We have not decided yet the direction we are going to go with the property, but we definitely will be cleaning it up and bringing back some of its past glory," said HCI spokesperson Jay Madhu, also a vice president of HCI's parent company, Homeowners Choice, of Tampa.

Homeowners Choice is publicly traded and one of the state's largest insurance companies.

Another Homeowners subsidiary, TV Investment Holdings LLC, bought 7 acres in Tierra Verde for $5.1 million at a foreclosure sale last year. That property includes a marina with 88 boat slips.

"The Rice property is one of the few waterfront jewels in Pinellas County," Madhu said. "On one side you have a restaurant, marina, and boating and you can walk under the new bridge to a sandy beach on the gulf.

"We are looking at everything. The property has amazing potential for redevelopment in the future and deep roots in the community."

A major hotel is just one of the "possibilities" HCI Holdings is examining, Madhu said.

Sid Rice, spokesperson for Rice Family Holdings, will work with HCI Holdings as a consultant to help plan development.

Rice's father, Charlie, started accumulating land along John's Pass in the 1940s, pioneering development of the area as a commercial fishing and tourist mecca.

At various times, the family operated a commercial fishery, a trailer park, a marina, and multiple restaurants. The Kingfisher Restaurant often was frequented in the 1950s and '60s by such baseball greats as Casey Stengel and Roger Maris.

"I have been here all my life," Sid Rice said Tuesday. "I know every boat and piling."

He is pleased with the new owners and what they plan for the family's properties.

"HCI Holdings is a well-known company and good operators," he said. "They want to keep the family legacy going. That was important to us."

Last year, Rice Family Holdings was negotiating with another investor, but plans for a $15 million redevelopment eventually became entangled in disputes over financing and control of the project.

During that period, many of the older buildings were demolished, and Gators Restaurant was refurbished.

After several contentious hearings, the city approved a site plan for redevelopment of the smaller parcel on the Gulf of Mexico, but work was never started on the proposed $1.5 million Rock House Grille and Cabanas.

The businesses that were sold along with the land, including an operating marina and Gators, employ more than 60 people.

Madhu said his group has met with the businesses' key management after the property closing on Monday.

"The last thing we want to do is worry folks or shake things up. The human element is very important to us," Madhu said. "It is business as usual."

Key Treasure Island property sold 04/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 5:18pm]
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