NEW PORT RICHEY — Main Street Landing developer Ken McGurn stood before City Council members Tuesday evening for the first time since he shut down construction nearly 2 1/2 years ago on the downtown's linchpin redevelopment project.
Good news: He wants to spiff up the shuttered construction site by finishing the exterior of the 15-unit retail building. He even has a price tag — around $2-million — of how much that might cost.
Bad news: He won't say when that work will be done. He says he wants to see if prices drop a little more. He says he doesn't know if he can persuade the bank to loan him the money. He says he doesn't know if he can persuade his wife to let him try.
"There's a lot of hurdles, so there's really no time frame," McGurn told council members, sitting as directors of the Community Redevelopment Agency. "If we told you a date, the newspaper would print it and then we'd be in trouble."
In other words, the nearly 2 1/2-year-old eyesore may not improve any time soon.
The Tuesday night discussion between the Gainesville-based developer and the board was polite and low-key but featured few specific details. City officials had invited McGurn to the meeting to give an update.
His Main Street Landing, a Mediterranean-themed retail and condo project, was supposed to jump-start redevelopment. But after construction costs soared — from $17-million in 2004 to $33-million in 2006 — 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 construction costs.
City Council members rejected the plan in a 3-to-2 vote. Council member Marilynn deChant, who was in the majority, is the only person from that council still on the board. After the vote, McGurn shut down construction.
McGurn has said for nearly two years that finishing the condos now would not be a smart thing to do because the units would not sell in this market. He has also talked many times about at least finishing the retail building.
That's what the city has been asking for, too.
"Those cosmetic adjustments would go a long way to showing people the project has not been abandoned," said council member Judy DeBella Thomas, who added that the shuttered site "has been a pall on our growth."
McGurn told the Pasco Times in August that he thought the city could consider offering incentives to help lure potential retail tenants to Main Street Landing.
On Tuesday, however, he did not go into any detail about public money that might go toward the project.
Mayor Scott McPherson tried to press McGurn on what he wants to do about the $1.25-million grant that the city promised him if he finishes the project by March 2009, something that appears increasingly unlikely.
Does he plan to walk away from the money? Will he ask for an extension on the contract?
"My biggest concern all along … is not hearing anything from you or your team about the contract," said McPherson. "I just wish we could get down to the fine points."
McGurn declined to answer that question. He said he was focused on the possible exterior work of the Main Street building. He said asking for more time on the contract would not solve the city's problems, though he later suggested he could wait on the project.
"I've got lots of other stuff to do," he said. "I'd be glad to put this on hold for another year."
He said that the fact he went out and got bids on the facade, however, represented a show of good faith. "We want to have something tangible," he said.
"That's the key word," said McPherson. "Tangible."
DeChant did not ask McGurn any questions but did suggest that he had waited too long to put something forward.
"We were rather hoping to see something proposed before this market situation, this credit situation," she said. "To me, it's just curious about the timing."
McGurn asked if he could respond to her comment but then, apparently thinking better of it, said nothing.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.