NEW PORT RICHEY – The city had reached a deal to sell long-vacant downtown property that continues to be a major financial drain on city coffers. The buyer is Frank Starkey's development company, which plans to build upscale apartments there.
On Tuesday, the New Port Richey Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, voted unanimously to sell 2.43 acres that once held the First Baptist Church. The site is now known as the Residences of Orange Lake.
New Port Richey purchased the property in December 2005 for $3.1 million, hoping to sell it for redevelopment. But the real estate bust doomed the effort, triggering several failed attempts to develop the site, which fronts the city's downtown Orange Lake at 6561 Circle Blvd.
The CRA board agreed to the sale of the land to Starkey's People Places, LLC, for $300,000. The deal for construction of up to 88 residential units also includes waiving permitting and water/sewer fees, and giving property tax rebates for the project until 2024. The deal still needs a formal approval from City Council.
Selling the property amounts to a substantial financial loss for the city. But it closes the books on the speculative real estate purchase that cost the city interest payments on the acquisition as well as lost property tax revenue from the failure to find a private buyer/development partner
Mario Iezzoni, the city's economic development director, said New Port Richey spent $1.4 million just in interest payments since the city borrowed money to acquire the land.
Iezzoni said the sale will benefit the city by stopping the continuing financial drain and get the land on the tax rolls in the coming years. It also paves the way for the economic growth that could be generated by a developer who he said has a proven track record of success, he said.
"It solves a problem that has been hanging out there for 10 years," Iezzoni said.
The CRA has also praised the credentials of Starkey, an enthusiast for the new urbanism movement. Frank Starkey is the brother-in-law of County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
In the late 1990s, Frank Starkey, along with his brother, Trey, created the Longleaf development, a 568-acre residential and retail development north of State Road 54 near Trinity. That project is noted for its nod to quaint neighborhoods of old, with picket fences, front porches, rear garages and on-street parking.
The brothers also planned, engineered and sold what is known as Starkey Ranch, a 2,500-acre multi-use project currently being developed that includes a 200-acre, Publix-anchored town center at Gunn Highway and SR 54. Starkey's grandfather, JB Starkey, sold thousands of acres to the state for preservation decades ago. It remains a popular preserve called the JB Starkey Wilderness Park.
Starkey said he hoped construction can begin downtown by the first of the year depending on the permitting process.
Mayor Rob Marlowe said the project could be a positive step for decades to come for the city's downtown. Council member Jeff Starkey (no relation to Frank Starkey) also described the project as being transformational for the city.
"Make no doubt about it, this is a huge change for downtown New Port Richey," said Council member Starkey.