PINELLAS PARK — Developer Grady Pridgen had a vision for the Gateway Centre that would have turned the approximately 400 acres into a sort of city with high-end office parks, condos or apartments and retail spaces.
For a while, it looked as if Pridgen would succeed. Then came the economic downturn, and lenders took back the property along Gandy Boulevard and U.S. 19 N.
Now flea market king Hardy Huntley, who bought 185 acres of the center in 2009 from the lenders, wants to erase Pridgen's plans. He's asking the Pinellas Park City Council on Thursday to loosen the zoning on his property.
In essence, Huntley wants to wipe out the zoning that the council granted Pridgen in 2009 that would have allowed the development of 266 multifamily residential units and 11,385 square feet of retail space on about 16 acres. That zoning also covered approximately 200 more acres in the Gateway Centre. Pridgen never gave details about what he planned for that acreage.
The change would take the land back to the commercial zoning that existed before the 2009 change.
But Huntley's request for a zoning change does not indicate anything's about to happen.
"What we're trying to do is just some housekeeping," Huntley's spokesman, Peter Creighton, said Tuesday. "Nothing's intended."
Huntley, he said, does not see residential as the best use of the property, so he's asking for the change "so we have a clean slate" when talking to potential buyers.
Dean Neal, the head of Pinellas Park's zoning department, said Huntley, who owns the Wagon Wheel Flea Market, has not indicated to him that anything is about to happen on the land.
The current zoning, Neal said, "was all centered around a commercial deal that fell through." Now Huntley, he said, wants to come up "with his own plan of attack. … I think they're trying to make it more responsive to the market."
The commercial zoning would allow offices, retail or personal services as well as some other uses. But, Neal said, the Gateway Centre is special because of its size and all the legal requirements enmeshing any development there. Almost anything that would go in would have to come back to the city for approval, so nearby residents would have plenty of time to weigh in on a proposal.
The Gateway Centre is situated in the midst of several residential communities — the Mainlands and some mobile home parks. In Pinellas Park, those communities, especially the Mainlands, have immense political clout with council members. The Mainlands is a development for those older than 55 years.
That's a reality that the city tells anyone who wants to build or move into an area that would affect the Mainlands.
That's a community that will be part of any negotiations, he said.
"They're very vocal," Neal said. "You're not going to be able to slide anything past them."
City staffers acknowledge that, telling developers or business owners to go talk with Mainlands residents and "make friends" with them before coming to the city. Otherwise, submitting plans and going through the approval process could be a waste of time if Mainlands residents adamantly oppose something.
Reach Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.