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Potential buyer eyes historic Fenway as tai chi hub

Fenway Hotel used to be a hot spot for the rich and famous. It became the campus for Trinity Bible College in 1961, then Schiller in 1991. It is currently vacant.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2011)

Fenway Hotel used to be a hot spot for the rich and famous. It became the campus for Trinity Bible College in 1961, then Schiller in 1991. It is currently vacant.

DUNEDIN — A representative of the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America says the organization is pursuing purchase of one of Pinellas County's iconic historic hotels, the Fenway in Dunedin.

Real estate broker Bill Sweetnam said the health and wellness society is in the "final throes" of contract negotiations with PNC Bank, which is foreclosing on the 6.4-acre waterfront property at 453 Edgewater Drive.

Sweetnam said the society intends to turn the property into a hotel and practice space for people attending workshops and formal instruction in tai chi, a centuries-old form of slow-moving, Chinese-influenced exercise.

The 50,000-member society's Toronto headquarters draws thousands of people a year from around the world, and the Fenway would similarly function as the society's U.S. hub, he said.

People "will come to the Fenway property, be able to stay at the hotel, attend workshops and avail themselves of everything else that the lovely city has to offer," said Sweetnam, a board member of the Dunedin tai chi branch.

Sweetnam wouldn't reveal the purchase price, but Loopnet.com lists the property at $3.9 million. He acknowledged that renovation of the long-vacant, 1920s Fenway could cost millions.

A sale would mark a victory for the bank and Fenway owner George Rahdert, who have been in foreclosure proceedings.

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

After PNC last year declared the unsecured, deteriorating property a "public safety hazard," a judge appointed a receiver to oversee upkeep.

Rahdert and the receiver, Bruce Keene of Tampa-based Franklin Street Management Services, said Wednesday that no one has submitted formal paperwork to buy the hotel. PNC Bank could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.

While the contract has not been signed by all parties, Sweetnam said "it's getting close," that "the deal points are pretty much settled" and that final terms are being ironed out. He acknowledged that the deal would likely take months to close.

Sweetnam has scheduled a meeting this month to discuss the society's vision for the property with city officials. Unlike Rahdert, he said, the society doesn't plan any additions.

The group chose Dunedin, he said, in honor of late International Taoist Tai Chi Society founder Master Moy Lin Shin, who years ago visited Tampa Bay and fell in love with the area.

City manager Rob DiSpirito said he's eager to hear the pitch: "We're always happy to sit down and listen to people. Stand by."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

Potential buyer eyes historic Fenway as tai chi hub 07/10/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:01pm]
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