CLEARWATER — The table was set Thursday night for the City Council to pick a parking garage site for south Clearwater Beach.
But then an opportunity knocked them back from the brink of a decision.
In recent months, the city's real estate agent, Mark Searcy, came up with a few groupings of parcels where the city could build a roughly 300-space garage — all of them between Coronado and Hamden drives, south of Third Street and north of Brightwater Drive. The purchase price was very close to the city's $5-million range. And construction costs for the four- or five-story building would be about $6-million more.
Everything was lined up and ready to go to end the 10-year search for a suitable garage, but then developer Avi Ovaknin made the council an offer too good to ignore.
Ovaknin, president of Surf Style Retail Management, said he'd like to build a garage on a piece of property he owns, just south of the Hyatt Aqualea condo-hotel.
In the six-story building, he would put retail space on part of the first two floors and the rest would be devoted to parking. Ovaknin would then lease approximately 300 spots to the city. In the future, the garage could be expanded upward.
The anguish was apparent on the faces of City Council members.
On the one hand, they had a plan all lined up and ready to go. On the other hand, they had an opportunity to get in on what could be a better and cheaper deal.
"We are tired of developers who are fake," Mayor Frank Hibbard said to Ovaknin at the meeting, referring to past deals that had gone bad.
"But I think this is something that we have to explore."
Other council members agreed it was worth looking at Ovaknin's idea, though there was concern about whether the city could make an arrangement to buy the spaces instead of leasing them.
Ovaknin said he'd have to speak with his business partners on that issue.
Council member John Doran said he liked the options that Searcy had put before the council. Doran said he was afraid Ovaknin's idea would "take a long time to work out and, quite honestly, I'm just not sure it will work out." And he reminded his colleagues of the adage about a bird in the hand.
"I don't think we've been this close in my memory," Doran said.
The council, however, decided to give staff 30 days to talk with Ovaknin about his proposal.
If the staff finds a fatal flaw in the plan, the council will move forward on the land their real estate agent assembled.
If Ovaknin's deal holds promise, the council will look at it further.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.