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Safety Harbor eyes $250,000 lease-to-own plan for school site

SAFETY HARBOR — The city may be ready to stake its claim to a former school property — even if it takes 50 years to pay for it.

The city didn't have the cash to buy the Elm Street land immediately after the Safety Harbor Secondary School was demolished in 2009. Now, the city has come up with a tentative lease-to-own plan.

In exchange for the site, the city would give $250,000 to Pinellas County Schools over a period of 50 years through $5,000 annual payments.

The city already owns part of the property, located in the northwest part of Safety Harbor. In 1959, the city gave over three lots to be used for a school. But under the quit-claim deed, the city regained the rights to those lots after the property ceased being used for a school.

The property could be paid off at any time under the drafted agreement. Safety Harbor would draw the $250,000 from its parkland dollars, a fund paid into by developers. The price tag is a deep discount on a 2010 appraisal that set the 5.24-acre school property's value at $855,000.

"Kind of a little goodwill back to Safety Harbor for the 50-plus years of using our property," City Manager Matt Spoor said. He added, "I think that we have a deal that works for everybody."

Designated for park space, the property could be used for ball fields, which Spoor said the city doesn't have enough of.

Mayor Andy Steingold once joked during a 2010 meeting that the spacious property could accommodate a much larger ballpark: "Watch out, St. Pete. We could be accumulating property for the Rays right here in Safety Harbor."

The school at 0 Elm St. started as Lincoln Heights Elementary School, an all-black school during segregation. It later became the Safety Harbor Exceptional Student Center for students with mental disabilities, then a school for students with behavioral disorders.

Its last use was for a dropout-prevention program, known as an intensive behavioral intervention school.

The school closed several years ago. As the building quickly deteriorated and safety concerns arose, it was knocked down, said Pinellas schools associate superintendent Michael Bessette.

A St. Petersburg water main runs diagonally beneath the property, limiting the potential for development, he said. The School Board had received some interest in the property but no formal offers.

The Safety Harbor City Commission will discuss the possible purchase agreement during its 7:30 p.m. Monday meeting at City Hall, 750 Main St.

Other items on the agenda include public hearings on the street light fee and changes to the zoning code relating to the location of group homes.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Safety Harbor eyes $250,000 lease-to-own plan for school site 12/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 7:59pm]
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