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Bongo's beachfront bar in St. Pete Beach is gone; Coral Reef Hotel getting facelift

ST. PETE BEACH — The former Bongo's beachfront bar at the Coral Reef Hotel is gone and the boarded-up hotel is getting a facelift.

That doesn't mean the hotel is reopening any time soon.

The demise of Bongo's is the result of the city's ongoing attempts to force the property owners, Coral Reef Partners LLC, to repair the deteriorating hotel and outbuilding.

Tuesday, the city's special magistrate, John Elias, found that repairs are being made on the hotel itself and fined the company $150 in administrative fees.

"Bongo's has been demolished and the land cleared," the city's code enforcement officer Heidi Hartsock reported to Elias. "The property owners are either sodding the lot or making a parking lot."

Hartsock also reported the hotel owners are in the process of repairing and repainting the main building.

Elias declared the hotel "in compliance," ending the current code enforcement case.

The city has cited the property several times since it closed in 2004.

The Coral Reef Hotel, located at 5800 Gulf Blvd., was built in 1963 and purchased by Robert Fleeting in 2004 for $7.3 million. The purchase was partially paid through a mortgage for $5.5 million with Wachovia Bank.

One week after Fleeting bought the hotel, the structure was condemned by the city and it has been boarded up ever since.

The partnership refinanced in 2007 with Branch Banking and Trust Co. of North Carolina. That bank filed a foreclosure action last year and it is still working its way through the courts.

Fleeting's company also owes more than $90,000 in back property taxes for 2009, as well as more than $63,000 for 2010 property taxes. According to the county property appraiser's website, the tax bills have yet to be paid.

Fleeting has tried unsuccessfully to redevelop or sell the property several times in the past few years.

In 2006, Fleeting had a $6 million deposit in hand to redevelop the property as an international resort. Largely because of a failing economy, it never happened.

In 2007, a contract to redevelop the property as a Marriott resort collapsed.

In 2009, a European group was interested in redeveloping the hotel property as a $60 million, 12-story major hotel or time-share resort. That deal also fell through.

Another redevelopment deal with yet another European group fell through last year.

Part of the reason for the failures, Fleeting has said, is the city's long and continuing legal battles over its Comprehensive Plan and development regulations and the resulting uncertainty over the legality of the city's development rules.

Over the years, the hotel continued to deteriorate. Inside, mold stained the walls and there were chipped floors and exposed electrical wiring. Boards over the windows rotted as the exterior was further damaged by the weather.

The former Bongo's beachfront bar nearly fell down, according to Hartsock.

Fleeting could not be reached for comment for this article.

Bongo's beachfront bar in St. Pete Beach is gone; Coral Reef Hotel getting facelift 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 4:23pm]
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