PALM HARBOR — The night before the newest restaurant bearing his name opened to the public, Lee Roy Selmon, along with his brothers, Dewey and Lucious Selmon, appeared at a private fundraiser at the eatery on U.S. 19 N. The evening was to benefit the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation and the Palm Harbor Panthers youth football league.
That night, June 13, is one of those rare moments now etched in time, says Greg Lynn, president of the Tampa-based restaurant chain.
"The restaurant was packed inside and out. Jack Harris (a Tampa radio personality) interviewed Lee Roy, and the interview was broadcast on many of the televisions throughout the restaurant,'' Lynn said.
Along with being one of the last public appearances by the Pro Football Hall of Famer, who died 83 days later from complications brought on by a massive stroke, the summer evening was also the first big celebration to take place at the newly renovated Park Avenue shopping center. Lee Roy Selmon's is the anchor tenant at the center, which has been owned by Jean and Gilbert Hakim since 1996.
"Our challenge is and will continue to be living up to Lee Roy Selmon's legacy,'' said Lynn, who oversees seven restaurants along the west coast of Florida. "So far, Palm Harbor has been very good to us.''
This is the third remake of Park Avenue, which opened in the mid 1980s on the west side of U.S. 19 north of Nebraska Avenue. Its best-known tenants in those days included a popular nightclub, Maxwell's Hammer, and Stroker's Billiards.
The Hakims purchased the center in 1996 and converted it to offices to house their growing computer company SCC, short for Soft Computer Consultants. Other businesses also leased space there, including the North Pinellas bureau of the St. Petersburg Times.
However, the Times closed its bureau in 2005, and in 2006, with 1,300 employees worldwide, SCC relocated to a larger facility on Tech Data Drive in Clearwater.
"Once SCC was moved, what we wanted to do was to work towards creating a destination shopping center catering to the neighborhood,'' said Mehrdad Moshtagh, a director of Creative Properties, the management company for Park Avenue. "So in 2007, we decided to begin changing from mainly office space to more of a mix of restaurants and retail.''
Two standalone buildings were torn down, then "we concentrated on the larger, main structure of the shopping center,'' Moshtagh said. "We tore it down to the bare bones because our goal was to create an entirely different atmosphere.''
The $3.5 million renovation took about three years. The 66,000-square-foot structure received a new roof, new wiring, new air-conditioning units and a new facade with a Mediterranean flair.
The biggest challenge has been finding new tenants during these difficult economic times, said Moshtagh, who added the cost for leasing at Park Avenue is between $14 and $17 a square foot. So far, he has signed up seven tenants, with space for about 13 more.
In September, Steve Lindhorst, along with his wife, Leah, relocated Beachworks Clothing and Gear from the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs to a 3,000-square-foot storefront in the center of Park Avenue. In the last three years, the Tarpon Springs residents have been driving by Park Avenue on a regular basis, "and watching it get gutted and put back together,'' Steve Lindhorst said.
"Why did we relocate? Because this giant parking lot outside my window is going to be my best friend,'' said Lindhorst. "On the Sponge Docks, you get foot traffic, but you are dependent on the weather and parking is limited. Here, about 80,000 cars pass us each day and can see us from the road.''
Lynn from Lee Roy Selmon's concurred that a big bonus of the Palm Harbor shopping center was not only location, "but visibility.''
"A big reason we liked it was because our site is literally on the road," he said. "We knew we wanted a North Pinellas location, and there's a lunch crowd there, and there are bedrooms that people go home to nearby.''
An eighth tenant, a children's day care center, will begin leasing an 11,000-square-foot space within the next several months, but a move-in date has yet to be determined.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.