DUNEDIN — Even in a difficult economy, two projects on opposite ends of Dunedin's Main Street are moving forward with confidence.
And city officials couldn't be happier.
"Here are companies putting money at risk for redevelopment because they see all the positives downtown," said Bob Ironsmith, the city's director of economic development and housing. "Other towns would love to have this type of redevelopment taking place."
Mayor Dave Eggers said both developers are strong partners who absolutely believe in Dunedin.
"We've got some good opportunities in our community if a builder wants to come in and do it right," he said.
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While Purple Heart Park was under construction on land he donated, Joe Kokolakis said he watched as pedestrians walked to the corner of Main Street and Broadway. They would look south on Broadway, he said, make a face and turn back.
"My goal is to draw them south on Broadway," he said.
Last year, the developer bought two buildings on the southeast corner of Broadway and Main: 748 Broadway, the former Dicus Building, and 730 Broadway, known as Stirling Hall.
The two-building complex, dubbed Stirling Commons by Kokolakis, will offer 20,800 square feet of retail, office, restaurant and arts space, with parking for more than 60 cars.
The project also will have a focal point: an art center on the second floor of 730 Broadway, where the public can watch artists at work.
The Dunedin Fine Art Center Stirling Campus will have glass-fronted studio space for 12 artists, walls for displaying art and two large rooms for classes and exhibits. The Dunedin Fine Art Center is leasing the space at a reduced rate the developer says will cover only taxes and insurance.
The concept is based on the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., which Kokolakis has visited. A renovated torpedo factory built in 1918 houses a large community of artists in open studios there.
George Ann Bissett, executive director of the Dunedin Fine Art Center, is thrilled with the deal.
"We are desperate for space here at the art center," she said.
Former Imago artists displaced by a 2007 fire on Douglas Street will sublease the artist's studios, Bissett said, and the satellite campus will be abuzz with activity.
"This is a fabulous partnership," she said. "It could be a model."
Ken Hannon, the art center's associate executive director, worked closely with Kokolakis.
"He saw inherently the value that the arts would bring to his commercial project," Hannon said. "The arts are good for business."
Kokolakis is talking with prospective tenants for the first floor of the building and new retail space to be added on Broadway. A cafe and restaurant, a cigar and gift shop, a deli, a candy store and a paint-it-yourself pottery business have shown interest.
The building on the corner, 748 Broadway, has been remodeled. Dale's Coins, Illume Eco Boutique and an architect are housed there and more office space is available for lease.
Kokolakis paints the future of Main Street, where he owns other properties, in optimistic terms. There are no vacancies, he said, and the weekends are busy.
Events organized by the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association, the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce and the city help to bring people in, but he thinks it's more than that.
"Maybe it is the emphasis on the arts and maintaining the integrity of a small town," he said.
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On the eastern end of Main Street, the $30 million Dunedin Gateway project will eventually offer 85,000 square feet of retail and office space across the street from Mease Dunedin Hospital.
The project will extend the ambience of Main Street and connect the gateway area to amenities like the Pinellas Trail and the waterfront, said Tom Harmer, senior director of public/private projects for Pizzuti Solutions of Orlando.
"Downtown Dunedin is a special downtown," he said. "Between the downtown, the waterfront and the hospital, all are assets that we think make this site special."
The project will be built in two phases, with a possible third phase that would add affordable housing and more retail space.
Demolition work has been completed and the developer is seeking permits for the 45,000-square-foot Phase I. When permits are in hand in the next month or so, the developer will start about six months of work on preparing the site and on an extension of Milwaukee Avenue that will provide access to parking.
When at least half of Phase I has been preleased, the buildings will start to go up. Harmer said construction will take about 10 to 12 months. A leasing company is in negotiations with prospective tenants now, but Harmer expects interest to pick up when there's construction on site.
"In real estate, activity breeds activity," he said. "People start to realize the project is moving forward."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.