Developers who wanted to build thousands of homes and offices on the old Toytown landfill are pulling out of the $870 million venture.
The project, first proposed in 2008, fell victim to the recession, financial troubles of a partner and the environmental hurdles that come with building atop an old 247-acre landfill.
An economic recovery won't come soon enough to save the project, said project manager Bill Tippmann, an Ohio consultant working with Bear Creek Capital of Cincinnati and Industrial Realty Group of Los Angeles.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is still a little bit dim," Tippmann said, blaming the economy for 95 percent of the decision to pull out.
The developers had a July deadline to meet with Pinellas County. They either had to take over the county-owned property Toytown landfill near Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard or pay $350,000 into escrow to extend preparation work another 18 months.
Mike Meidel, economic development director for Pinellas, expects to receive a formal notice of withdrawal from developers today — a move he called unsurprising given the economy.
"Look at the market. One of the big cornerstones of that market was retail. That's dead. That's where the big money was," County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala said.
Bear Creek Capital approached the county in 2007 about revamping the old landfill.
The county agreed to give the developers the land, banking on future property tax revenue from the proposed 2,100 housing units, 1.5 million square feet of shopping and 2 million square feet of offices. The project also called for 70 acres for recreation and 6 acres for a transit depot.
The company spent at least $200,000 on preparation costs, but Tippmann wouldn't say exactly how much. Long-awaited soil boring to test the landfill's suitability was never done.
The county will receive copies of studies and reviews the developers completed, including about transportation and the site's environmental history. The county will draw on that work for future suitors.
The site has been floated as a site for a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, an option encouraged by county officials and developers although no actual plans have emerged.
Various parties have expressed interest, but the county held back while the agreement with Bear Creek was active, Meidel said.
Commissioners Ken Welch and Norm Roche both called for a fresh look at plans for the land given the state of the county now versus 2008.
"Obviously, I don't think new development in the midst of thousands and thousands of vacant houses and condos in Pinellas is what's needed right now," Roche said, "not to mention the environmental feasibility of that site."
David DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter with @DeCampTimes