CLEARWATER — Sand Key's largest shopping center has been sold for $9.1 million, perhaps paving the way for future redevelopment on what was once a legal battleground.
Home to the Columbia Restaurant and Backwaters on Sand Key, the Shoppes on Sand Key center was sold by a Clearwater real estate group, D.A. Bennett Co., to a South Florida company operating as RNJ Sand Key.
"The company is registered in state records to Boca Raton entrepreneurs Benjamin and Nissan Hamuy, who also own a chunk of John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach as well as beach retail property in Key West.
Calling it a rare chance at buying a "waterfront trophy asset," Klein & Heuchan vice president Steven Klein, who represented the seller in the deal, said the center showed "fantastic opportunity for future high-density redevelopment."
That potential led to an uproar in recent years when the center's owners sought a zoning change that would have allowed a high-rise hotel there. Residents of Sand Key's condominium towers fought to keep the one-story strip center intact, dispatching hundreds of people to hearings at City Hall.
In 2009, a state appeals court sided with the center's owners, clearing the way for them to get a rezoning. But neighbors, led by the Sand Key Civic Association, have continued to mount defenses against the potential for new development at the Shoppes location.
Klein said the buyers want the financial benefits of the 40,000-square-foot shopping center's retail space, which is 98 percent occupied. He said the new owners have discussed no plans to build a hotel on the center's 3 acres on Sand Key's eastern waterfront.
"When the market was rolling along, that probably was an option," Klein said. "But I don't think there's anything like that happening for quite a while."
That's good news for Sand Key residents, who say they hope the new owners will invest in the center's look and infrastructure, which some feel has been neglected. But they still wonder what the center's new owners have planned.
"If he keeps it commercial and makes a living doing it and the shops prosper, then Sand Key will have saved its shops," said Dick Jackson, chairman of the Sand Key Civic Association. "If the shops prospered, everyone would be happy."
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