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Builder makes New Port Richey an offer to buy church property, build senior housing

NEW PORT RICHEY — Back in late 2005, the city paid $3.1 million for the downtown First Baptist Church property. The plan: Sell it to a private developer who would turn it into a mixed-use project of condominiums and retail shops.

Nothing materialized, and today the city is saddled with an unused investment — and a hefty balloon payment due next year.

But now a Cleveland-based developer has come to the city with a plan: Buy the property and turn it into "Circle Lake Senior Village," a $14.4 million affordable housing project for the elderly.

The initial offer: $775,000.

Not exactly a good return on investment. But the developer, NRP Group, says that's just an early price tag it put out for discussion purposes.

"I have no idea," if the price is on target, said partner Tim Morgan. "I look forward to sitting down with the city."

He'll get a chance to do that next month, when City Council members, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will have him in for a talk.

NRP, which recently opened a Tampa office, was the only group that responded to a city request for proposals for the church property.

In documents submitted to the city, NRP says half of the 72 units would have one bedroom and the other half two bedrooms.

The church, which city officials say needs as much as $500,000 in repairs to bring it up to code, would be demolished.

The target market for tenants would be seniors making between 35 and 60 percent of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater median income.

Rents would be based on income. Monthly prices would range from $278 to $539 for the one-bedroom units and $334 to $632 for two-bedroom units.

"The project is very upscale," said city redevelopment manager Caprena Latimore.

The main financing for the multifamily homes would be through the sale of $10.9 million in tax credits plus long-term permanent debt worth over $1 million.

Documents submitted by the developer also say the financing would include "local municipal financing contribution from the city of New Port Richey." There are no further details.

If everything were to go as planned, construction would start as soon as May 2011.

NRP, a real estate and general contracting company founded in 1994, has developed and built more than 12,000 multi-family and single-family housing units around the country, with another 1,500 planned in 2009.

The company also formed a management group, which by the end of this year will manage more than 50 affordable family and senior citizen properties in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Indiana, New Mexico and Arizona.

Council member Ginny Miller said Wednesday that the initial asking price was on the low side, but she said there were other factors to consider, namely that the project would generate much-needed property tax revenue.

Overall, she said, senior housing could be a good use for the property.

"Downtown residential is a major focus" of the city's redevelopment dollars, she said.

At one time, arts and music patrons had suggested turning the Baptist church into a performing arts center. But former Council member Bob Langford said that dream died when the cash-strapped group of volunteers learned that bringing the church up to code would be so costly.

"I think we were basically stopped dead in our tracks," said Langford.

Langford, who was on the council at the time that the city purchased the church, said senior housing certainly wasn't his first choice.

"That's very disappointing," he said. "I'd rather see something else than a project like that. Really, the original intention was to make that a destination."

The city used a $9 million line of credit from Bank of America to pay for properties it had not planned to hold too long, including the First Baptist Church in 2005 and the $1.05 million First Church of Christ Scientist in 2006. The $2.21 million purchase of the Hacienda Hotel in 2004 also falls under that line of credit.

Come August 2010, the bank will come calling for a balloon payment of nearly $7 million. City officials are hoping to refinance before that date.

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

Builder makes New Port Richey an offer to buy church property, build senior housing 06/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 10:01pm]
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