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Clearwater hires agent to find land for beach parking

If you own commercial property along Clearwater Beach, expect Mark Searcy at your door.

The Chase Real Estate agent and the firm were tapped by Clearwater officials Thursday to help assemble enough property to build the long-discussed parking garage the beach desperately needs.

"I just bought a brand new pair of tennis shoes and I'm going to visit every owner and ask them: 'How are you doing, would you like to sell your land to the city, and how much?' " said Searcy, 47.

The City Council unanimously agreed to let Chase Real Estate, a beach firm, act as its broker in finding at least an acre of south beach property to build a 300-space garage. The firm was selected from six contenders that sought the contract the council issued in March.

City Attorney Pam Akin said staffers recommended Chase because they "were most interested in people with beach experience … but all the applicants were very qualified."

Council member Paul Gibson, a beach real estate agent, said the company was well-qualified and he had faith it could get the job done.

In the meantime, the city, which has held some off-and-on talks with other landowners, will end discussions and let Chase do all the work.

The firm has one month to assemble the land, negotiate a price with the owners and bring an offer to the city. If successful, Chase will get a 3 percent commission from the sellers. If the deal falls through, then the city will pay Chase $5,000 for its "time and for a market study that details the conditions contributing to the inability to acquire an appropriate site," according to the response the company submitted to the city.

If the firm fails, the city will consider using its own property to build a garage, a move that would most likely lead to a garage being built on the existing south beach parking lot near where the old Adam's Mark hotel once stood.

But Searcy says he's planning to succeed.

"We're going to get 1 acre – no matter whether it's from one owner or five owners," the real estate agent said. "But the owners have to be realistic about the price and the city has to realize that because they passed the density (ordinance that lets hotel developers build more units), the window of opportunity is small."

In its proposal, Chase officials say they have already found one spot: three parcels that total 1.1 acres on Coronado Drive across the street from where the Hyatt Aqualea condo-hotel is rising. Searcy said he thought the property might sell for $8-million to $10-million, but negotiations are still open.

The Chase proposal also pointed out that Searcy played a hand in assembling land for the $125-million Marbella condo project, located on parts of Coronado Drive and S Gulfview Boulevard, which has since been put on hold.

The city at this point has $6-million set aside that it could use to buy property. And it has $12.5-million in planned revenues earmarked for a beach parking garage in last year's voter-approved Penny for Pinellas sales tax, which can be used to build capital projects or fund major infrastructure improvements. The garage could cost as much as $9-million.

Chase officials will meet with city leaders Tuesday to determine just how much Clearwater is willing to spend.

City leaders have spent 10 years talking about a parking garage. Discussions with developers failed, mostly because prices were too steep. City leaders say the rapidly dropping real estate market coupled with rising insurance costs could make property owners willing to sell.

If so, they're ready to deal.

The city does not want to build on the waterfront, but rather a few blocks away. That's why building a garage on the city-owned property by the Adam's Mark, which is on the water, is considered a last resort.

In May 2003, city leaders discussed building a 335-space garage on top of the 1.4-acre lot. But residents were horrified, saying it would close the window to one of the only places in south Clearwater Beach where motorists can catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico from their cars.

>>Fast facts

What's next

The city has asked Chase Real Estate to assemble about an acre of land so it can build a beach parking garage. The firm already has three pieces put together: the Golden Villa Motel, 228 Hamden Drive; the Riviera Motel, 221 Coronado Drive; and the Echo Sails Motel, 216 Hamden Drive.

Clearwater hires agent to find land for beach parking 05/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 17, 2008 11:41pm]
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