NEW PORT RICHEY — Main Street Landing developer Ken McGurn said Monday he felt "blindsided" by news that the city had prepared a lawsuit asking for permission to demolish his stalled construction project.
"What have I done to deserve their threatening a lawsuit?" McGurn said. "You don't threaten to sue a partner for no good reason."
City Manager Tom O'Neill will ask City Council members tonight to consider their remedies against the Main Street Landing developer.
McGurn, however, may have eliminated one legal avenue.
Under O'Neill's original plan, outlined in a memo last week, the first legal step was to inform McGurn he had defaulted on the 2004 contract that promises a $1.25-million city grant if he finishes the project by the now-impossible deadline of March.
But McGurn, after learning of the agenda item from a reporter early Friday afternoon, e-mailed the city later that day with a pre-emptive response: He was opting out of the 2004 contract, citing a clause that lets him walk away from the deal if finishing the project becomes financially unfeasible.
"Due to events beyond our control, there is no way we can see to economically finish this project now pursuant to the agreement," he wrote.
That means there is no contract over which the city could sue for damages, City Attorney Tom Morrison said Monday. But he said the city could still try to have the construction site cleared on grounds that it constitutes a public nuisance and health hazard.
Morrison, after speaking with McGurn's lawyer Monday, said his understanding is that McGurn would work out some sort of deal to clean up the site and that legal action would not likely be necessary.
"He's obviously not going forward with the project," Morrison said. "He's pretty cooperative when he says he's going to do something. … The goal of everyone in town is to get rid of the eyesore. Hopefully it'll get worked out."
But McGurn said Monday he isn't writing off the project just yet. He said he never knew until Friday that leveling the construction site was a consideration and said he is still putting together plans to finish the facade of the building on Main Street.
He said he'd think about the demolition request, though he wasn't sure what he would do beyond tearing down the walls. The city's code enforcement department has never cited him for the site being a health hazard.
"That's the first time anybody suggested that," he said. "Is that productive? Does that move the project forward?"
McGurn said he sent his structural engineer and architect in late October to meet with city building officials and O'Neill about the fire code issues involved with finishing the exterior of the first building. He said the architect and engineer were incorporating the information into their plans.
He said he'd checked in via e-mail with O'Neill on a regular basis since then and never heard back until a reporter left him a voice mail message Friday inquiring about the legal action.
"I'm just shocked, surprised," he said.
O'Neill said Monday, "To my recollection, I have responded to him when he's contacted us. I've obviously been in a lot of contact with him."
He said McGurn's engineer and architect did not have firm details, or a schedule, for completing the exterior work. "They didn't come close to being biddable specifications," he said.
He said legal action was only a last resort after failing to see something happen at the construction site, which sits on riverfront property right at the gateway to downtown.
"That's not what we ever wanted. … We wanted a project," he said. "We wanted completion of a project."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.