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Safety Harbor officials balk at resort's proposed restrictions in land sale

SAFETY HARBOR — City commissioners may have been prudent to delay a decision on purchasing 15 acres from the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa until after the spa handed over its list of proposed limitations on use of the land.

There is no way, city officials said, they will agree to the restrictions the spa has proposed.

"Many of the restrictions are unreasonable, and when the spa owner is ready to be serious about the opportunity, we are ready to listen," said City Manager Matthew Spoor. "But at this point in time, we are not going to take that agreement as serious.

"The city is not going to pay $4 million for property and operate it exactly the way it's operating right now."

The land the city wants to buy is a grassy stretch of mostly vacant land that lies between the resort and the shore of Old Tampa Bay. The city envisions it as park land.

"Quite frankly," Mayor Andy Steingold said, "I have lost some confidence in our ability to purchase the property when it appears to me the true intention is for us to basically mow their grass."

He said he respects the spa's desire to maintain the integrity of its services and property, "but the restrictions are overreaching and unconscionable," he said.

Olympia Development Group, whose president is William E. Touloumis, bought the 22-acre resort in December 2004 for more than $20 million. Safety Harbor has an opportunity to buy the spa's 15 acres as part of a debt-restructuring plan that would bring the resort out of bankruptcy.

Touloumis referred all comments about the issue to his attorney Howard P. Slomka, who did not return a call for comment.

Under the eight-page use agreement presented by the spa, Safety Harbor would not be able to sell any food, beverages or merchandise on the property unless it came from the spa or the spa gave its consent. The city would have to establish and post rules for the land and those rules would have to have spa approval.

No waterfront structures could be built by the city, but the spa could erect structures for weddings on the land. No area of the purchased property could be illuminated to encourage night-time gatherings, and no excessive noise would be allowed. Any event requiring a speaker or amplifier would have to be approved by the resort.

No improvements or attractions designed to attract more than 10 people would be allowed without the spa's consent. The spa wants six months' advance notice for any major event with more than 50 people and that event could not conflict with scheduled resort ceremonies or bookings, the draft agreement states.

In addition, no watercraft rental or recreation activities for hire or rent would be allowed without the spa owner's written consent.

Spoor said Wednesday that the city has been in contact with Slomka about the restrictions. Spoor said the spa agreed to send the city a revised draft of the agreement. "Hopefully, it will be more realistic," Spoor said.

Pending an appraisal, Safety Harbor is offering about $4 million for the property, which runs north from Veterans Memorial Lane at the city's marina to Mullet Creek.

Earlier this month, the commission voted not to sign a contract to buy the land without having a clear agreement about what it can do with the land.

If the city agrees to buy the land, it has five days to pay a $100,000 deposit. It would then move forward with an appraisal and survey of the property at a cost of $20,000.

Commissioner Nina Bandoni was hopeful that the city and spa could come to an agreement.

"Looking at what they provided us," she said, "we are going to have to work very hard to come to a meeting of the minds if they think that's a reasonable place to start."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Safety Harbor officials balk at resort's proposed restrictions in land sale 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 7:53pm]
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