CLEARWATER — Six years ago, Tampa businessman and philanthropist Kiran Patel paid $40 million for prime land just south of Pier 60, envisioning a two-towered megaresort to adorn what was one of the county's most expensive land buys.
Yet the newest structure at the site — a for-sale sign — could mean an end to the project before building began.
City leaders estimated the site's price — paired with about $10 million in taxes, interest and carrying costs — has rocketed to about $50 million.
Yet Coldwell Banker Commercial, which has listed the 2.9 acres at clearwaterbeachforsale.com, appears to have little hope of earning Patel a profit. The land, which agents wrote is "entitled and ready to turn dirt," has an asking price of $30 million.
The project's dismal outlook didn't surprise Vice Mayor Paul Gibson, who has publicly chastised Patel, a cardiologist with a history in health care management, for his lack of experience in real estate.
"The sale of the property was inevitable," Gibson said. "Dr. Patel knows as much about development as I know about medicine."
Mayor Frank Hibbard called the sale "surprising but maybe not a bad thing," adding that a buyer could still turn the land into a profitable project given a better set of plans.
Any new developer, though, would need to build with "a sense of urgency," Hibbard said. The council extended the site's development deadline last year to 2011; another extension, he said, might be out of the question.
"The clock's ticking," Hibbard said. "You've got a council that has lost their patience."
Messages left for Patel and his assistant by St. Petersburg Times reporters Tuesday were not immediately returned.
The site holds 200 parking spaces for beachgoers, built with $150,000 from Patel as part of an "extension fee" the city levied at the end of 2008. At that time, the council asked for reassurance that the Miami-based Related Group, which Patel called a 30 percent partner in the project, was still involved.
Reached Tuesday, Related's vice president Eric Fordin said he had not yet heard the property was on the market. The firm had done little work for Patel in recent years, he said, as they waited for him to secure financing.
Patel originally planned to build 15-story towers of condos and hotel suites that would fill the 900,000-square-foot resort, at an estimated cost of $250 million. To do so, he had to raze several standing hotels near S Gulfview Boulevard and Coronado Drive, all the while looking to capitalize on an investment that officials and developers said was staggeringly risky.
"Maybe I overpaid," Patel told a Times reporter in 2004. "But all my life I have done things by gut, how I feel. And like most people, I have had some failures and had some good ones. I don't know if what I'm getting into is good or bad. Time will tell."
Times staff writers Mike Brassfield and Mark Albright contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.