Ten years after making one of the most expensive property buys in Pinellas County history, Dr. Kiran Patel says he will break ground in March on a $170 million hotel on Clearwater Beach. Patel, a Tampa cardiologist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, said he has no buyer's remorse for spending $40 million on the almost 3-acre site south of Pier 60. "Regrets don't help. I never look at anything that way. I do believe, though, that land in front of the water cannot be created by any individual," he said.
Last year, Patel paid $1 million to the city for a one-year extension of his development rights on the property, which lies in the split between S Gulfview Boulevard and Coronado Drive. He'll have to place another $1 million in escrow if he doesn't acquire building permits by Feb. 12.
Patel's development team has applied for permits, but they haven't been approved yet.
The original plan was a $250 million, 900,000-square-foot resort with 15-story condo towers, but the dream ground to a halt when the recession began. His vacant property was used for beach parking, leaving an open view of the gulf in that section of the beach.
As the years passed, city leaders became frustrated, finally setting a drop-dead deadline of February 2015 for construction to begin. If not, Patel loses up to $3 million in escrow.
"We've all been waiting a long time," said City Manager Bill Horne.
But Horne says he was always "optimistic." Now that the project looks more likely, it's another sign that Clearwater Beach continues to boom.
"It fulfills our desire to have three resort hotels on Clearwater Beach," Horne said. "It continues to reinforce the beach as a destination location."
The Hyatt Regency next to Patel's property and the Sandpearl resort on Mandalay Avenue were completed in recent years.
Patel plans to begin foundation work in early March to coincide with his 65th birthday. The current proposal envisions a smaller footprint than Patel's earlier design: about 700,000 square feet and 450 rooms, 105 of them timeshares, said Bill West, Patel's director of development.
Negotiations for bank financing and a Wyndham Grand flag are going well and should be complete by March, West said.
"We're down to crossing our t's and dotting the i's," he said.
The looming deadline for another milliondollar-payment didn't influence his decision to move forward, Patel said.
"It would have been easier for me to buy the time," Patel said.
Financing is more readily available now and market conditions are improving, he said.
"I believe that in the next two or three years, by the time I'm ready to (open), the market should be ready," he said.
A big element in his decision to move forward is that the presence of high-end hotels like the Sandpearl and Hyatt Regency have recast the beach's image for upscale tourists.
"The challenge on Clearwater Beach was that there were no higher-quality properties ... But with the Hyatt, Sandpearl and then my property, I feel there is an option for somebody that is looking for a three- or four-star hotel," he said.
Mayor George Cretekos is withholding applause, for now.
"I'll believe it when I see it," he said. "I'm getting used to the open view."
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.