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Developer says more incentives would help Main Street project

NEW PORT RICHEY — The developer of the stalled Main Street Landing project has asked the city to consider more financial incentives — not directly for himself but for potential buyers of his retail units.

Ken McGurn, the Gainesville-based developer behind the condominium and retail project, said Monday that he told city officials in a private meeting recently he'd pay to finish the exterior of one building, currently a concrete skeleton at the gateway to the downtown, if he can do it for a "reasonable" price.

Forget finishing the interiors of the condo units for now, he said. But McGurn said finishing the 15 retail units in that building is a possibility — if he can get restaurant and shop owners interested in buying the spaces.

That, he said, is where the city's pot of redevelopment money could come in.

He said the city could expand its current commercial grant program to lure shop owners to Main Street Landing. As it stands now, the city's grant program helps businesses and developers pay for signs and facade improvements, up to $15,000.

McGurn said Monday that he hopes the city could change that program to provide enough for potential Main Street Landing business owners to feel their investment in the space would be worth the risk.

In an interview with the Pasco Times, he suggested a hypothetical scenario with a $20,000 incentive, but said the actual amount would be up to the city.

"City, that's your ball park. You've been offering the Hacienda (Hotel) people some really good incentives," he said, referring to the $1.5-million the city plans to contribute toward the renovated hotel, plus $3.2-million toward a parking garage with public spaces.

McGurn provided no specific figures to the city, and two officials in attendance at the meeting a few weeks ago — Mayor Scott McPherson and redevelopment officer Caprena Latimore — described the discussion as broad and noncommittal.

"My feeling … was that the discussion was very much in the abstract," said McPherson.

Any expansion of the grant program would require a vote of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which is made up of City Council members. It is unclear whether the grant program could be expanded to benefit one project.

"At this point, I don't know how we'd do that," said Latimore.

Meanwhile, if he wants to get his original $1.25-million incentive grant from the city, McGurn must finish the first phase of Main Street Landing construction by next March.

That isn't likely to happen, and McGurn said Monday he expects to have to renegotiate the incentive package. He continues to argue he should get an extension because of the skyrocketing construction prices and unavailability of materials due to the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes.

The unfinished Mediterranean-themed project has been a sore point in New Port Richey since construction shut down nearly two years ago. The costs had soared — from $17-million in 2004 to $33-million in 2006 — so McGurn in June 2006 asked the city for a new incentive package. That plan included turning Main Street Landing into its own special district and using some of the property taxes it generated to pay off about $6.7-million in bond debt.

City Council members rejected the proposal, in a 3-2 vote, and McGurn closed down the construction site soon afterward.

In March of this year, McGurn said he was hopeful he could crank up construction of the retail portion as soon as this month. On Monday, he said that the process has taken longer due to much back-and-forth with the architect and engineer revising his plans. He said if the estimates to finish the exterior on the building are $2-million or more, he won't do it now. If the estimates are around $1-million or less, he'll consider it.

McPherson said Monday that he wants to hear and see something concrete from McGurn.

"What I want is to see some action," he said. "I'm as sick as anybody in the city at looking at that abandoned project."

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

Developer says more incentives would help Main Street project 08/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 12:15pm]
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