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Main Street Landing developer seeks New Port Richey's help with financing

NEW PORT RICHEY — Ken McGurn says he is spending $70,000-a-month to keep construction going on the long-struggling Main Street Landing project.

But on Tuesday, the Gainesville developer gave City Council members the bad news: After spending $800,000 this year on the $20 million project, banks are still refusing him any loans for the downtown project, and he's not sure how long he can keep it afloat without financial help from the city.

McGurn gave a slide presentation showing progress on construction, and said the planned multi-use residential and retail development — which many had hoped would anchor a downtown revitalization — could have a roof by year's end.

But from there it will take another year's construction to get the site close to being ready for tenants, and without help from the city, McGurn said, he may not be able to keep going. He told council members he spent his own money on the project as a show of good faith, but he is on a financial limb.

"That limb is getting awfully weak," he said.

McGurn and City Manager John Schneiger had an hour-and-a-half meeting before the council meeting, but no deal has materialized.

"We're not real close," McGurn said.

But discussions are far less toxic than they've been in previous years. Two years after the council approved the project in 2004, construction costs skyrocketed from a proposed $10 million to $30 million, and in 2006 the council rejected new funding.

The crash of the economy in 2008 further stalled the project, and council members then even threatened to sue McGurn for not moving forward on the project. In 2009, the city again denied him a $1.45 million loan to keep going.

Schneiger, who took the reins as city manager last year, had a more constructive meeting with McGurn Tuesday.

"There was a positive tone throughout the meeting, but it going to be tough," Schneiger said.

Schneiger said funding from the city will be nearly impossible as the city's Community Redevelopment Agency is so cash-strapped over debt service for other development projects that it will most likely be borrowing from the city's general fund next fiscal year.

In the meeting with the city manager, McGurn proposed other alternatives, such as easing his financial burden through tax incentives, waiving permit fees, or even a promise of city funding five years from now as the economy turns around.

"I just need something I can take to the bank to show them there is something there they can count on," McGurn said.

Schneiger said he appreciated McGurn's "thinking outside the box," and wants to continue an open dialogue to look for solutions to keep the project moving forward.

City Council members also urged McGurn to continue construction, while looking for financial solutions, and praised him for his work so far on the project.

"You have shown good faith. It no longer looks like an abandoned building," Mayor Bob Consalvo said.

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Marketing plan set for Aquatic Center

In other news Tuesday, City Council approved funding for a marketing plan to get the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center back in the black.

The council hired Colorado-based Ballard*King & Associates to conduct a $15,250 marketing study to look into how to better promote the aquatic center and its programs. Ballard*King specializes marketing studies for parks and recreations services across Florida, and has completed projects in Orlando, Sarasota, Key Biscayne, and Port St. Lucie, according to the firm's website.

A study commissioned by the city this year found since the center opened in 2007, it has pulled in far less money than the city spends to run it.

In 2007, the center brought in $320,210, but operations cost $789,609. Last year the center pulled in $387,751, but operating costs topped $1.1 million. This year, projections are for the center's revenue to be $451,050, while the costs are expected to surpass $1.2 million.

Main Street Landing developer seeks New Port Richey's help with financing 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 9:50pm]

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