NEW PORT RICHEY — The city has prepared a lawsuit against the developers of Main Street Landing, asking for permission to demolish the stalled construction project once heralded as downtown's coming jewel.
The threat of legal action is the toughest move yet by the city in its 2-year-old effort to get the upscale retail-and-condo project going again.
City Manager Tom O'Neill said in an interview Friday that the city had reached this point only after negotiations with Gainesville developers Ken and Linda McGurn have gone nowhere.
"I don't have anything to show for my meetings with Mr. McGurn," O'Neill said. "This is a product of inactivity and nothing happening. How long can we as a city be expected to stand by with nothing happening?"
Ken McGurn did not return a phone message Friday afternoon.
Just the prospect of legal action could be seen as a way to strengthen the city's negotiating position, and O'Neill said he hopes the city can avoid filing the lawsuit if its latest moves "open the door" to more fruitful talks.
O'Neill will ask City Council members, meeting Tuesday as directors of the Community Redevelopment Agency, to begin taking legal action. That means first informing the McGurns they are in default of the 2004 development agreement that promises a $1.25-million incentive from the city if the project is completed by March.
That agreement gives the McGurns 30 days to "cure" the problem. If they do not, O'Neill wants permission to proceed with the lawsuit prepared by City Attorney Tom Morrison.
Morrison's draft complaint says Main Street Landing developers have breached their contract with the city because meeting the March deadline is "impossible."
McGurn has previously told the Times that he qualifies for a deadline extension under a provision of the contract that allows for unforeseen circumstances beyond his control such as the way the 2004 hurricanes affected construction prices. Morrison wrote in his complaint that the city disagrees with that interpretation.
The complaint says McGurn has failed to finance the project to completion, which that agreement also required. The complaint calls the construction site an eyesore, a public nuisance and health hazard.
The unfinished project, the complaint says, "is having an adverse impact on property values in its vicinity … and serves as a hindrance to economic development."
Under the complaint, which asks for unspecified monetary damages, the city asks for the court's permission to demolish the project if the McGurns fail to do so.
Main Street Landing, a Mediterranean-themed retail and condo project, was supposed to jump-start downtown redevelopment. But after construction costs soared from $17-million in 2004 to $33-million in 2006, McGurn asked the city for a new incentive package. That June 2006 plan included turning Main Street Landing into its own special taxing district and using some of the property taxes it generated to pay off about $6.7-million in construction costs.
When council members in the summer of 2006 narrowly defeated that proposal, the McGurns shut down construction at the site.
Ken McGurn has said he hoped to finish at least the exterior of the project but has said he can't say when. The shuttered construction site has become a sore subject among business owners and residents in the city's struggling downtown.
Mayor Scott McPherson, who has had meetings with McGurn, said he felt the city had tried to do whatever it could to help the project along. But he isn't sure the city got much in return.
"The dialogue to me seemed to lack substance," he said. "Based on that, I feel like the complaint has merit."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.