DUNEDIN — A real estate team has pulled out of a deal to redevelop the Fenway Hotel property, but city officials are still pushing ahead with ordinance changes that would let a future contractor tear down the Fenway as long as he or she promises to retain its historic look when it is rebuilt.
Under current rules, the City Commission has complete approval authority over parcels given a "Single Site Historic" overlay zoning designation. Reserved for sites considered suitable for historic preservation and redevelopment or reuse, the designation bars a developer from demolishing the property. The ordinance allows commissioners to enter into a development agreement and negotiate with the developer on items like setbacks, property use and incentives.
City planning director Greg Rice says the rule was created years ago specifically to protect the Fenway during failed renovation efforts by the current owner, and it's the only site in the city with the designation.
"The idea was to make sure that it was going to be a historic hotel," Rice said. "We didn't want any flag hotel to come in and tear that down and throw a hotel in there. That's what the development agreement forces: a historic hotel."
Now, city staff is proposing that commissioners add language allowing them to make a special exception and let a developer raze and replace a historic structure if it is "in the public interest" to do so because of the building's deterioration, noncompliance with current building and fire codes or location in a flood hazard zone.
Rice said being able to start from scratch is more cost-effective and much safer for the Fenway, an all-wood structure that is caving from water damage, lacks fire protection devices and sits in a velocity zone.
"Should another developer come along that prefers to build it to code and move it out of the velocity zone and hurricane-harden it," he said, "we just want to be prepared so that is an option for the City Commission to approve."
Another proposed ordinance change would let developers count two one-bedroom, one-bath condo-hotel units that adjoin as a single dwelling.
That format — common in golf resorts Rice said he has seen in North Carolina and elsewhere nationwide — would provide a win-win for both the condo owners and the hotel, he said. Condo owners would be able to purchase a larger space and possibly use the second side, which has a separate entrance and quarters, for guests. During special resort activities, the condo owners would have the option of renting out the second side to the hotel if it needed extra rooms.
The Local Planning Agency, a citizen advisory group that makes land-use recommendations to the City Commission, considers the proposed code changes tonight. The ordinances go to the City Commission for public hearings and votes Dec. 19 and Jan. 9.
The measures were initially intended to smooth a path for James and Christy Bower, a father and daughter real estate development team out of Pennsylvania, to purchase and tear down the deteriorating Fenway at 453 Edgewater Drive and build an 88-room independent boutique hotel, condos and conference space with the same look and name as the original Fenway on the Bay.
They had hoped to open for business by January 2015. However, the Bowers announced last week that PNC Bank's failure to promptly accept their purchase offer had forced them to abandon the deal.
For years the hotel has been at the center of foreclosure proceedings between the bank and current owner George Rahdert, a St. Petersburg attorney whose clients include the Tampa Bay Times. His efforts to restore the hotel to its former glory were derailed in part by the failing economy. According to Rahdert, the state had preliminarily approved recommending that the hotel be placed on the National Register of Historic Places once renovation work began.
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.