TIERRA VERDE — A new parking lot and empty tract of land is better than a decaying cluster of vacation villas, but residents are wondering what happened to a new ownership group's plans to build a hotel and restaurant at the entrance to Tierra Verde.
Three years ago Tierra Verde Marina Resort LLC paid $14.4 million for a time-share complex on 10 acres at 200 Madonna Blvd. The group hosted a meeting with about 170 residents and shared plans and drawings for a restaurant of up to 10,000 square feet and a 100-room hotel.
Since then, the development group has razed the rodent-filled time-share properties, refaced a high-and-dry facility, installed a parking lot and built new docks and seawalls. Construction has started on a dockmaster's office and a retail center, but the hotel and restaurant haven't broken ground.
"My wife and I kid about it, that we may not see it in our lifetime," said Tom Rowland, 61, who has lived in Tierra Verde since 2001. "I think it's kind of an eyesore for Tierra Verde. It's the first thing you see."
But something is coming soon, a representative of the developer promises.
"The restaurant will definitely happen in the next six months," said Christopher Longrie, spokesman for the owners group. "It will happen as soon as the right fit is there."
He said a deal will be signed within weeks.
"There are two different restaurant groups (interested) right now. They are local groups that are very well known in the area, very strongly looking at the property," he said. A local, prominent hotel group is also seriously considering taking part in developing the hotel, he said.
The dockmaster's office will include two or three retail spaces for a fuel stop, boat rentals, boat sales and a ship's store with ice cream, snacks, ice and bait. A 5,000-square-foot boat maintenance facility is also under construction.
Now that the footprint of the property has been defined and construction has begun, restaurants and hotels are closer to making a move, Longrie said.
Tierra Verde is a unique location for hotels because it has high summer traffic with Fort De Soto but a slower winter season. Yet because there are so many Tierra Verde residents with relatives who visit but prefer to stay in a hotel, that is another business sector, Longrie said.
"It's a business model that's not traditional." he said. "It's a very unique fit. There is a lot of traffic between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but then a lot of business from relatives of residents beyond that."
Diana Gabay, a resident of Tierra Verde since 1988, said she's curious about what hotel or restaurant might end up at the front of her community, but she isn't too worried.
"The only thing that could cause a real problem would be a strip club. A pawnshop would be an issue, too," she said with a laugh.
Tierra Verde Community Association president Paul Murray says he strongly believes that the developers have the best of intentions for the property and things will happen soon.
"Look how much money they have invested already and they're not making anything off it. They are going to do something high quality," he said.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8785.