DUNEDIN — The $30 million mixed-use Gateway project approved five years ago for downtown will likely be revamped as a 138-unit apartment complex.
The Dunedin City Commission voted 5-0 Thursday to give developers with Pizzuti Builders LLC a nine-month extension to retool the project, which has been stalled because of the poor economy.
When Pizzuti won commission approval in 2007, the company's initial concept for the 4.1-acre tract across from Mease Dunedin Hospital was offices, retail and about 30 rental units anchored by an upscale grocery store. Pizzuti pledged to spend $32 million developing an environmentally friendly mixed-use complex.
But the lot at the corner of Main Street and Milwaukee Avenue has remained empty as the real estate market plummeted and developers struggled to secure commercial tenants.
Developers haven't made any final decisions on the project's new direction. But based on preliminary market data, officials now envision multi-family workforce housing as its main component, with continued potential for restaurants, retail and offices.
Office and retail space "is not market-supported, and we don't think it will be for the next several years," Pizzuti senior vice president Tom Harmer told commissioners Thursday. "But we think there's an opportunity, that there is something that is market-supported that would be good for Dunedin and still have a mixed-use component to it. That's what we think we can explore and come back and make a submittal on to get approval."
The commission's decision Thursday is the latest in a series of attempts to breathe life into the project.
Amid a faltering economy, the city gave developers permission to build the project in two phases in 2008. Pizzuti quickly closed on the first half of the property for $1.2 million. Last year, the City Commission granted developers a six-month extension on their September closing deadline for the second half.
The new deadline approved Thursday night gives the builders time to essentially start from scratch and obtain a market analysis, secure financing and draw up new site plans.
Pizzuti's new goals are to negotiate a purchase price by April 30, submit an architectural redesign by July 31, receive commission approval by Oct. 31 and close on the property by Dec. 15.
The idea met some initial resistance from Commissioner Julie Scales, who questioned why developer requests for apartments are so popular lately.
"Is that even the kind of project we want there?" she asked. "It's the entryway to downtown, and it was going to be a signature project."
Harmer said talks with hospital officials indicate that there's a need for apartments among hospital employees.
Added Commissioner David Carson: "What's ultimately going to be developed on any piece of land is going to be the market driving that decision. We can sit up here all day long and say this is what we want, and we'll sit on empty lots forever."
In other news
• Commissioners, residents and developers spent 90 minutes discussing the fees developers pay to subsidize the purchase of public park space but made no final decision. In general, commissioners appeared to agree that changes to — not elimination of — the land dedication ordinance might be the preferred route to spur economic growth. Critics have said the fees are so expensive that they deter developers.
The City Commission will continue the discussion at a workshop Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon at City Hall, 542 Main St. Other agenda items include a review of November referendum questions and a look at city-owned surplus property.
• The city will ask the state for permission to add two more golf cart crossings. If approved, a new crossing at State Road 580 and Main Street/Bass Boulevard would link the north and south cart zones. A new crossing at Alt. U.S. 19 and Monroe Street would allow cart access between the Dunedin Marina and downtown.
No golf cart accidents have been reported since Dunedin became the second-largest Florida city, behind Key West, to allow golf carts on designated roads in July, according to Dunedin Goes Carting, a citizens group that pushes for legal, safe carting ordinances. Over 70 residents had obtained golf-cart permits as of January.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.