NEW PORT RICHEY — One of Tampa Bay's most famous names in real estate in the early 2000s, a man who later defaulted on millions of dollar in loans after the Great Recession, is hoping to partner with New Port Richey to redevelop the historic Hacienda Hotel.
At one time, Grady Pridgen III estimated his real estate kingdom at $4 billion. But by 2011, he and his companies had defaulted on loans totaling more than $60 million "since the Great Recession wrecked the real estate market," according to a story published in the Tampa Bay Times.
The headline on the story: "Crash tames realty titan Grady Pridgen, but don't count him out, peers say."
Now Pridgen is hoping the city will not count out his idea for redeveloping the Hacienda — a prospect that has vexed the city since it purchased the Main Street property in 2004 for more than $2 million, only to see the building sit dormant since, plans also laid to waste by the recession.
After watching the building deteriorate for years, the City Council in the last five years has made a major push to stabilize the building and find a developer, and it has made some headway. The city has put $2 million into the building, including getting a new roof on it with help from state historic grants, which New Port Richey is seeking again this year.
There have been setbacks, too. The city signed a development agreement with the father/son team of Avi and Yaakov Rosner, but that deal eventually fell through last year, leading the city to put the project out to bid again. The only developer to submit a plan this time around: Pridgen.
Pridgen's proposal has an entirely different take on what to do with the Hacienda than the city has seen from any other developer. Instead of restoring it as a boutique hotel, he wants to rent the upstairs rooms as apartments and a few guest suites. The proposal by Pridgen Development, under the company Hacienda Hotel LLC., also includes plans to turn the building's downstairs into a dining area of some kind, with a community room or banquet room for weddings or galas, then on the east wing of the downstairs establish a clubhouse or fitness area for upstairs renters.
Another part of Pridgen's plan is to incorporate a piece of property he owns across the street into the Hacienda project, also turning it into a 200-apartment complex with the same "architectural character" as the Hacienda. The plan would also include a three-story parking garage, which would be "hidden on three sides by apartments, which would provide public parking with separate access on the ground level and resident parking above."
Pridgen did not return requests from the Times for comment on this story. But his proposal states: "Our team believes that for the revitalization of the once grand Hacienda Hotel to be successful it cannot be an island destination on Main Street. There has to be a comprehensive approach that includes not only drawing the community to the Hacienda but also directly addresses bringing new residents to the area and with them demand for retail, restaurants and services."
New Port Richey economic development director Mario Iezzoni said the city is taking Pridgen's proposal seriously and working with the developer by asking for renderings. But Iezzoni said Pridgen's idea to combine his property across the street with the Hacienda brings a new complexity to an already complex project.
More proposed apartments, coupled with apartments already approved for the nearby Main Street Landing and high-end apartments approved to be developed by Frank Starkey at Orange Lake behind the Hacienda, makes it a "significant challenge," Iezzoni said.
He said the city is also aware of Pridgen's past financial setbacks, but added that was a "pretty nasty recession, and there were very few people in the development business who did not suffer adversely."
Meanwhile, as negotiations continue with Pridgen, the city is making an effort to secure more dollars from the state in order to get the ground floor of the Hacienda in working order and take down the construction fence around the property to get the downstairs open to the public.
One option might be to lease the ground floor to an entity for an eatery, as well as open it to the public for tours, which recently have been conducted by the nonprofit Friends of the Hacienda, with great success, according to Iezzoni.
During an April 4 meeting, Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips, sitting as a member of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, urged getting the fence down and opening the ground floor to the public.
"I am tired of treating this thing as a case study," Phillips said.