DUNEDIN — The Gateway, a $15 million mixed housing-retail project that city leaders hope will spur similar development throughout downtown, received a tentative green light from city commissioners Thursday.
But first, developers had to answer a few questions commissioners had about parking and an unprecedented incentive package city staffers had proposed to jolt life into the project six years after it was stalled by the sluggish economy.
Under the incentive package presented Thursday, Pizzuti Builders Inc. would acquire a vacant, city-owned 4.25-acre tract at the intersection of Main Street and Milwaukee Avenue for its appraised value of $998,000, paying it off through annual lease payments over 25 years, with an option to purchase. The city would waive $421,175 in impact and permit fees.
Pizzuti would build a three-story development featuring 124 one- and two-bedroom rental apartments over 24,500 square feet of shops and restaurants.
Dunedin economic development director Bob Ironsmith said the project would feed $4.7 million into city coffers — $952,000 of it within the first year.
"This is an extremely powerful economic driver for downtown," he said.
Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she supports the package, but wondered what would happen to the lease-purchase agreement if Pizzuti sold the property.
"The reason we're doing this is because of our relationship with Pizzuti," she said. "I don't want the citizens to wait 25 years for their money if we don't have to and I don't want that to be a carrot Pizzuti uses to sell it. I don't want to subsidize another group."
Should that happen, Pizzuti executive vice president Jim Russell assured commissioners that the company would make the city whole, and said the company typically buys out leases long before required.
A frustrated Mayor Dave Eggers, echoing residents' fears about cramped downtown parking, noted that Dunedin's expensive land dedication ordinance requirements had forced Pizzuti to include a pocket park, an unwanted feature, in its plans instead of a parking garage.
A second public hearing and final vote is set for Aug. 15.
In other action, commissioners unanimously approved the sale of two city-owned surplus properties that staff says will generate $118,600 for the city's general fund and land the parcels back on city tax rolls.
The properties, at 641 Wood St. and 1630 St. Catherine St., are among two dozen unused homes, small easements and vacant lots the city has acquired over the years through gifts from Pinellas County, foreclosures and other means.
At a future meeting, commissioners plan to brainstorm creative ways the city might use land-sale proceeds. For example, Bujalski recalled that at least once in the past the city has reinvested earnings from a property sale in affordable housing. Matthew Campbell, assistant to the city manager, said several city departments have also expressed interest in the funds.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.