SAFETY HARBOR — City residents now own 13 acres on the Tampa Bay waterfront, following completion Wednesday of the city's long-delayed purchase of property from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.
"It's a landmark purchase for the city. I couldn't be happier," said City Manager Matt Spoor after attending the closing, adding that "150 years from now, someone will look back and say, 'Those people were pretty smart.' ''
The city paid the spa's owner, Olympia Development Group, $2.75 million for the undeveloped land behind the spa complex, which is on Bayshore Boulevard at Main Street. The purchased property extends from the city marina to Mullet Creek and includes both wetlands and uplands.
The land will be developed into a park, but not yet. For now, it remains fenced off from residents.
Spoor said the first improvement to the property likely will be a decorative fence to separate the city's property from the spa's land. For now, the city has no money in its capital improvement budget for developing the park. There is some money in next year's capital budget, but that doesn't take effect until Oct. 1, Spoor said.
The city expects to spend months developing a master plan for the acreage, Spoor said. Though the City Commission will have final approval, the public, city government and spa representatives will have input.
Spoor said the city is looking forward to a positive partnership with its neighbor, the spa. The city's purchase of the land will be a good thing for the spa, too, he said.
"Spa guests can walk right out their door and be in a city park," he noted.
However, the spa and city had some difficult negotiations. They initially disagreed over a fair price for the land, which is being sold as part of the spa's debt restructuring plan through federal bankruptcy court.
The two sides originally talked about a price of $3.3 million, 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 $1.9 million was too low but that $2.9 million was too high. The city counter-offered $2.75 million, but didn't even get a response from Olympia Development and negotiations ended. Talks got back on track in December after the bankruptcy judge declared the city's offer a fair price for all parties.
Another delay was caused by discussions over two power poles that supply power to the spa complex. The poles were located on the land the city planned to buy and were expensive to move. The spa eventually agreed to move the poles at its own cost.
Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To submit a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.