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Safety Harbor rethinks price of 13 acres in deal with spa owner

SAFETY HARBOR — The city will attempt to renegotiate the purchase price for 13 acres of Safety Harbor Resort and Spa property after the land was appraised at more than $1 million less than the city planned to pay.

The original contract price for the undeveloped parcel between the spa and Old Tampa Bay was about $3.3 million, but a survey of the land completed last week found less usable upland than previously thought, lowering the value to $2.9 million.

An appraiser hired by the city set the value even lower, at $1.9 million.

On Monday, city commissioners authorized the city manager and city attorney to reopen negotiations with the spa owner, Olympia Development Group, to seek a reduced purchase price.

Commissioners have agreed that the bayfront land would be desirable for recreation, but now they are pondering what is in the best interest of the community.

The city's purchase is part of a financial restructuring plan to get the spa, a major business and tourist attraction as well as a historic landmark, out of bankruptcy.

The final sale price is predicated on the property appraisal. If the appraisal had come back for more than the $3.3 million the city had offered, that offer would have stood. But since it's under that figure, the city can try to renegotiate.

The question is how low to go. City Attorney Alan Zimmet reminded commissioners that a bankruptcy judge has to approve the final sale of the property. Zimmet said the price has to be high enough so that creditors in the bankruptcy case do not contest the sale.

"We have an obligation to our residents to spend their money in an effective manner," Mayor Andy Steingold said. "It's appraised at $1.9 million, but is that really the intrinsic value to the citizens of Safety Harbor? I would probably say it's more."

"I have to be true to the residents of Safety Harbor," said Commissioner Mary Lynda Williams. "I agree that we shouldn't pay $2.9 million, but I don't want to insult the spa people by offering them the bottom line. There has to be a happy middle here."

The property extends from Veterans Memorial Lane at the city marina to Mullet Creek. Commissioners envision a city park on the land.

Also on Monday, commissioners agreed to seek a way for the city to take over the struggling Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History.

Commissioners are considering letting the city's leisure services staff manage the museum. The museum board would continue to raise money for the place and acquire and handle the museum's artifacts.

City Manager Matt Spoor said the museum board members "are juggling one too many tasks, if not two too many tasks." The small museum has struggled for years with financial and personnel issues.

The museum would close for an extended period and reopen next year. In the meantime, the building at 329 Bayshore would be renovated. When it reopened, it would be used for events and classes as well as tours, and its name would be changed to the Safety Harbor Museum of History, Arts and Culture.

"We want to go forward and grow the museum," said Bobbi Wheeler, president of the museum's board. "This is a good thing for both the city and the museum."

In other action, the commission tentatively agreed to move its municipal election from March 13 to Jan. 31 to coincide with the state's presidential primary. The cost of a city election March 13 would be about $26,000. The bill for a Jan. 31 election will be only $9,000.

The commission will make a final decision at its Oct. 17 meeting.

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

Safety Harbor rethinks price of 13 acres in deal with spa owner 10/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 7:08pm]
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