Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Purchase of Fenway Hotel in Dunedin falls through

DUNEDIN — A developer says PNC Bank's failure to promptly accept his company's offer to purchase Pinellas County's iconic Fenway Hotel has forced him to abandon a deal to raze and rebuild the landmark.

Pennsylvania hotelier James Bower says PNC did not respond to his offer by 5 p.m. Nov. 27, throwing off a tight construction timetable that would have allowed the hotel to open for business by January 2015.

He declined to share the price he had offered. Real estate website Loopnet.com lists the property's value at $3.9 million.

"Without an agreement from PNC, we just can't move forward," Bower said. "I'm afraid at this point it's a dead issue because of our timing and schedule. Without an answer almost immediately, we've got to back off on it and look at it at a different time or not at all."

The news is only the latest in a string of disappointments surrounding the vacant structure at 453 Edgewater Drive, which has spent years at the center of foreclosure proceedings between the bank and current owner George Rahdert.

Built in the 1920s, the Fenway briefly housed the county's first radio station, then catered for decades to rich and famous hotel guests such as baseball great Babe Ruth and several silent film actors. It became the campus of Trinity Bible College in 1961, then Schiller International University in 1991.

Rahdert, a St. Petersburg attorney who represents the Tampa Bay Times, purchased the hotel in 2006, planning to restore and expand it into a 132-room, high-end resort and spa. But the project was derailed, in part because of the poor economy and neighborhood opposition.

Since then, officials say, multiple entities, including the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America, have shown interest in the site but stopped short of purchase. Meanwhile, a judge appointed a receiver to oversee upkeep amid complaints from PNC, neighbors and law enforcement that squatters, vandals, deterioration and vermin were quickly turning the hotel into a "public safety hazard."

Bower, who said he has developed about 10 hotels up North, and his daughter-turned-business partner, Christy Bower, discovered the 6.4-acre waterfront property about a year ago and immediately fell in love with the Fenway's history as well as Dunedin's charm.

City commissioners last month gave staffers the okay to start drafting a development agreement that would have expedited the permitting process for the Bowers' proposal to build an 88-room boutique hotel, condos and conference space with the same look and name as the original Fenway.

The city had scheduled meetings next week with neighbors and the Local Planning Agency, a citizen advisory board that makes land use recommendations to the City Commission.

City officials said Tuesday that they are reviewing the situation.

A "disappointed" Bower praised the city's readiness to work with him and lamented how close the deal had come to completion.

But all may not be lost. Bower wouldn't give specifics, but said he is now eyeing another property "that's not too far away that looks like we'd have very few problems with right now."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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