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Rumors are wrong: Six Flags, casino not coming to Pasco County

HUDSON — Some rumors won't die, and Mark Richhart says there are good reasons this one adapts, then survives.

See those new hotels under construction? See the Publix at U.S. 19 and State Road 52 closing? See that vacant land with the "For Sale" signs? See the discussions on the Internet?

"Something," said Richhart, of Hudson, "is going on."

First, Six Flags. And now this: Seminole Hard Rock Casino, coming to Hudson?

The casino rumor is hot, though there are plenty among us who still enjoy an old-fashioned — and debunked — rumor about Six Flags, which is currently busy trying to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Maybe you heard about one or the other at the drugstore the other day. At a pizza restaurant. Maybe you called it in to the newspaper.

At any rate, it's news to the Seminoles.

"It ain't happening," said tribe spokesman Gary Bittner.

Bittner said it'd be "next to impossible" to open a casino on any property in Pasco County. That's because a federal law says that tribes can open gaming operations only on reservations or lands held in federal trust before 1988.

Besides, he said, why would they open a casino so close to the one in Tampa?

Details, details.

"My money's on a casino," said one person participating in an online debate over whether the next big thing in the Hudson area is a casino, a Six Flags or maybe even a water park. "Right location, maybe a little government grant to some Native Americans, buy the land cheap and get it built as quick as you can."

Richhart, the Hudson resident, says his big tipoff is the hotels — one already completed, one set to open next month and one well under construction — in the immediate area.

Hotel representatives and local officials have said that the reason is this: There weren't many other ones of that caliber in the local market.

The rumor mill has also put Six Flags at the U.S.A. Flea Market, something that the flea market has repeatedly said is untrue. In fact, the flea market is expanding.

While Pasco doesn't have any American Indian lands for a casino, and there isn't a large enough tract near U.S. 19 and State Road 52 for an amusement park (Six Flags locations range from 140 to 230 acres), there are some things going on in the area. They just aren't as thrilling as a roller coaster.

A tenant will rise again at the site of Point Plaza's Publix, which is leaving early next month, according to a spokeswoman for the mall's owner, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty. Spokeswoman Betsy Keck said there are no plans to sell the mall.

"We have significant retailer interest in the Publix space," she said. "We look forward to announcing something in the near future."

An Idaho investment group has plans to eventually build a retail center on property it owns in the area, including Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's old property at U.S. 19 and State Road 52 plus 14 acres to the west and 9 acres to the south, according to Al Clark, an Orlando real estate agent who is working with the group.

Clark said the group, BV Bayonet Point LLC, has been working behind the scenes on something for more than a year now but is feeling the effects of the economy. So the group is trying to get other things accomplished, such as environmental studies, in the meantime.

"The owners are trying to regroup the wagon with the economy," he said.

Dunedin-based Mid-Peninsula Realty Investment Group owns land behind the Publix shopping mall that is permitted for 362 townhomes. The group also bought up about 7 acres of vacant commercial land running from just north of the shopping mall.

Representatives of the property owner are expected to ask for modifications — adding residential and office components — to an old development of regional impact that encompasses the land, said John Meyer, DRI coordinator for Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. Nothing has been submitted yet.

Berton Thomas, who is with the group, declined to discuss his plans in detail, saying that he was trying to get things lined up and ready once the market comes back. He said the location makes it ripe for retail.

He did confirm what wasn't coming to his property: a casino. But he is open to offers.

"If anybody knows who wants to build a casino here," he said, "have them tell me."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Rumors are wrong: Six Flags, casino not coming to Pasco County 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 11:16am]
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