INDIAN SHORES — The economic slowdown may have a silver lining for this small beach community, which hopes to acquire about half of a stalled development property estimated to be worth about $15-million.
The 4-acre site, including the former Fathoms Island Grille, is north of 199th Avenue on Gulf Boulevard and extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the Intracoastal Waterway. The town hopes to buy almost 2 acres on the site's southern portion, including all of the beachfront section.
The town has applied for a Florida Communities Trust Florida Forever Grant to pay for the project. Negotiations for the purchase are being handled by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities and government agencies protect land such as parks and open space by optioning or purchasing the property until it can be permanently protected by a government or community land trust.
Pinellas County has endorsed the project and is willing to "partner" with the town by allocating some Penny for Pinellas money to help with the acquisition.
The proposed park "would not only fulfill our goals for increased beach parking but would also provide access to the Intracoastal Waterway," says Interim Pinellas County Administrator Fred Marquis.
If the town's effort to purchase the property is successful, the park would become known as the Bay-to-Beach Access Park, according to Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence, who said the town would seek additional grants to pay for restoring the now-vacant land.
The several-inch-thick grant application, put together by Bonnie Dhonau, the town's administrative assistant, outlines the myriad plant and animal species that would be protected by restoration of their natural habitat. One is the Cuban snowy plover, a native bird that is particularly endangered by intense development of the beaches.
The Intracoastal portion of the proposed park would include parking, several drainage ponds, a picnic area, restrooms, a nature trail, mangrove and native plant restoration, a waterfront canoe and kayak launching area, and an educational kiosk.
The gulf side portion also would include some parking, a nature trail, restoration of sea oats, a dune walkover, picnic facilities and a beach volleyball setup.
The developers, Atlantis West LLC, had hoped to build a $120-million condominium project, but site plan issues with the town and changing economics stalled the project.
In March, an auction failed to find a bidder willing to "satisfy" the lender, according to Gary Rufkahr, one of the principals in the development firm.
Now the developers are working with the town to create a bay-to-gulf waterfront park on the southern half of the property.
Rufkahr said his firm still wants to develop the northern half, where Fathoms is. Instead of condos, the redesigned project would provide about 150 senior living units, with a dining facility, a pool, an exercise room and more.
"We really like the idea of the park, especially if our idea to develop a senior living project goes through," Rufkahr says. "One of the benefits of these economic times would be a nice project for the community."
The park plan will be presented to the public for the first time at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the commission chambers at City Hall. A second presentation and opportunity for public input is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 5.