SAFETY HARBOR — Two weeks ago city commissioners walked away from a deal to buy land behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, saying the spa's owner, Olympia Development Group, was not negotiating with the city in good faith.
This week, after several hearings in front of the judge handling the spa's bankruptcy case, the deal is back on, and at a better price for the city.
Commissioners unanimously approved an agreement Monday night to pay the spa's owner $2.75 million for 13 undeveloped acres along the shoreline of Old Tampa Bay. The property extends from the city marina to Mullet Creek and includes both wetlands and uplands. A closing on the sale is scheduled for Jan. 26.
"We finally got to a win-win," said Commissioner Nina Bandoni.
The city will borrow the money to buy the property and will pay it back over 10 years at a 2.34 percent interest rate. No property tax dollars will be used for the purchase; the city will use parkland dedication funds and Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue to pay off the debt.
Most of the property will be maintained as open parkland thanks to some restrictions that will require the city to maintain the resort's water view and to avoid uses that might be disruptive to spa guests. One acre next to the city marina will be available for future development.
The vote Monday came after weeks of disagreement over a fair price for the land, which is being sold as part of the spa's debt restructuring plan. A federal bankruptcy judge is overseeing the transaction.
The city and spa owners originally talked about a price of $3.3 million for the waterfront property. Then a new survey showed less dry upland than previously thought, lowering the calculation of value to $2.9 million, contingent on an appraisal. The appraiser placed the value at $1.9 million.
Some city commissioners believed the $1.9 million was too low, but that the $2.9 million offer on the table was too high. The city counter-offered $2.75 million, but didn't even get a response from Olympia Development and negotiations ended.
This week, after the bankruptcy judge declared the city's offer a fair price for all parties, the spa was ready to make a deal.
Commissioners said they were delighted to be able to get the property for the public. The purchase will lengthen an already extensive linear park along S Bayshore Boulevard and connect with the Phillippe Parkway area.
Future generations, said Mayor Andy Steingold, now will have "a nice place on the bay."
City manager leaves
In other action at the meeting, commissioners finalized an agreement with Community Development Director Matt McLachlan to be the interim city manager and decided on a process for interviewing candidates for the permanent position. City Manager Matt Spoor is leaving to take a job with the city of St. Petersburg and attended his last commission meeting Monday night.
McLachlan offered to take on the interim job without any increase in pay or benefits, but commissioners, noting he would have to do two jobs, voted unanimously to give him a 5 percent pay increase until a new city manager arrives.
The city is accepting applications from city manager candidates until Jan. 20. Then, a four-member staff committee appointed by Spoor will begin sifting through the applications to pick the top 10 to 15 candidates.
Commissioners decided they will interview those applicants, plus any they want to add to the list, on Saturday, Feb. 11. They will meet later that day to make their selection.
Diane Steinle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4184.