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Ashley Glen development in doubt after Mercantile files for foreclosure

It's been called the future gateway to Pasco County, the first thing drivers see as they exit the Suncoast Parkway to State Road 54.

The 260-acre parcel was supposed to become home to some of the tallest office buildings in Pasco County, a 1.8-million square foot magnet for high-paying jobs county officials crave. But today, the property that was slated to become bustling Ashley Glen is forest and pasture land, dotted with bales of hay.

And it could stay that way for a while now that the bank filed for foreclosure against the former surgeon who wants to develop it.

Mercantile Bank began foreclosure proceedings Feb. 26 against Ashley Glen LLC, development company JES Properties and owner Doug Weiland, saying he owes $21.5 million on a $24 million loan. The filing came after Weiland missed an interest payment in January.

Weiland also owes the county $2 million for road improvements at Ashley Glen and asked last week for an 18-month extension. He recently got a grading plan approved for part of the area slated for a 600-unit apartment complex that he hopes to sell to a Georgia company.

Weiland, who is from Clearwater, did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Steve Booth, his land use attorney. Stanford Solomon, an attorney for Mercantile Bank, called the foreclosure "routine" and said the bank could always withdraw if it could work out an acceptable deal with Weiland.

While things don't look good now for Ashley Glen, those in development circles say they aren't worried that would it prove a drag on Pasco's economy by languishing, or worse, become another residential neighborhood in a county awash in rooftops.

"That's a highly sought-after corridor, and it will continue to be a highly sought-after corridor when the capital markets open up," said Mary Jane Stanley, chief executive officer of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "It's a great location. The main thing preventing anything are tight capital markets."

The development, to be called Ashley Glen, was first proposed in 2005. Westfield Homes owned it and proposed 800 homes, but County Administrator John Gallagher dubbed that a waste of prime land. Enter Weiland, who bought the property and envisioned 1.2-million square feet of office space, including a skyline off the parkway. Later it was expanded to 1.8-million square feet.

Weiland estimated the project would cost about $400-million.

The project is indeed proposed for a hot spot. Right across the street sits NorthPointe at Suncoast Crossings, part of the Hogan's Group's 688-acre mixed-use development that includes a similar amount of office space as Ashley Glen, 500,000 square feet of commercial buildings and 1,319 residences. It also includes the offices of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

About 2 miles east on SR 54 is land being eyed by financial giant T. Rowe Price for a 95-acre campus that would bring about 1,600 high-paying jobs.

"I'm very concerned (about the foreclosure) because the region is very important to us," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, a certified financial planner whose office is also in NorthPointe. "The development going into foreclosure pushes back that project."

However, Cox said Ashley Glen would have no bearing on efforts to land T. Rowe Price. "It's not tied to other stuff," he said.

He also said zoning and development requirements for the area will mean a similar project would have to go in even if the developer changes.

Mike Hogan, the developer behind NorthPointe, said Ashley Glen's situation is a sign of the times.

"It doesn't surprise me in light of the current economy," he said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Ashley Glen development in doubt after Mercantile files for foreclosure 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 1:56pm]

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