TIERRA VERDE — Developers planning to redo the Tierra Verde Resort breezed through a community association meeting last week with about 170 residents who offered more applause than concerns.
"I think it's the best thing they can do for the resort," said P.J. Murray, who has lived in Tierra Verde for 14 years. "We've been looking at a derelict hotel and a rundown building. This will only add to the business and the community."
Tierra Verde Marina Resort LLC recently paid $14.4 million for the dilapidated, vacant resort that sits on 10 of the 18 acres St. Petersburg annexed in 2008. The investment group plans to upgrade the existing high-and-dry facility, which can accommodate 250 boats, and build an addition that will house another 200 boats. It will also build and then lease a 10,000-square-foot restaurant to an independent operator and put a 100-room hotel on the property.
Gary Boesch of Clearwater represents the investment group for a family trust. He sat quietly at the back of the meeting at the Island Chapel while an attorney representing the project addressed the crowd and took questions.
"If the people don't like this, he doesn't want to build it. The owner has said, 'If this is not a viable project I'll just flip it,' '' said Joseph Gaynor of the Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns law firm in Clearwater.
One resident expressed concern that if money runs out before the project is completed, the resort could remain a vacant eyesore. "There is no bank financing on this property. The owners are committed to use their own money," Gaynor said.
Almost all of the proposed plans are within the county's development guidelines except a portion of the high-and-dry facility, which will need to be 5 to 7 feet above the 50-foot maximum. The group will seek a variance to allow that.
"The existing building is an eyesore. It is just a disgrace. Your challenge is to prove to us that this (new) building looks really neat and good looking," said resident Hani Matta. "No matter what is done here it's going to look a lot better than what you've got."
After the meeting, several residents talked up the Marker 1 Marina in Dunedin, which has a high-and-dry facility with design elements and different elevations that make it look more attractive than a steel barn.
A few other residents said they hope there will be attention paid to traffic patterns so already crowded Madonna Boulevard doesn't become more of a headache.
"This is the first time I have ever heard there is a problem on that street. I will look into it," Gaynor said. He did refer to a study of activity at high-and-dry facilities in general that found only 24 percent of boats are actually used, though the rate is higher on major holiday weekends.
If there was an evacuation for a hurricane the hotel would be emptied before most permanent homeowners evacuate, Gaynor said, because hotel operators have to give notice to guests or potential guests that there is the chance of a hurricane. So hotel guests would not be a big factor in evacuation traffic. "With a condo, people are running out at the last minute," he said. "There's certainly an advantage of a hotel over having 100 condos there."
While several hotel companies are considering the site, none has signed on the dotted line and it could be a year or two before that phase of the project is in place. Gaynor assured residents if a hotel or restaurant doesn't open on the property, there will be landscaping in its place until they find an office or retail tenant.
Now that the community has shown it is not up in arms about the plans, the owners will move forward and file site plans with the city of St. Petersburg in March. They will have to be approved by Pinellas County because of a judge's ruling last year that the property annexed by the city still has to conform to county development rules. Once permitting is in place, it should take about two months to construct the high-and-dry. Gaynor said it could be up and running this summer. The first step is demolishing most of the existing buildings on the site.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]