SAFETY HARBOR — A sandy beach with volleyball courts could be in the future for Safety Harbor residents after the City Commission decided to pursue buying up to 15 waterfront acres that wind behind the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.
Trying to put a close to a 2010 bankruptcy filing, the spa is selling the land that runs north from Veterans Memorial Lane at the city's marina to Mullet Creek. The property abuts Old Tampa Bay.
"This is an opportunity that came at a very difficult time economically," Mayor Andy Steingold said at Monday night's commission meeting. "You can't be shortsighted and say we don't have the money.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime — not for my lifetime, not anyone up here, but the lifetime of our kids."
Commissioner Nina Bandoni agreed.
"It's a win-win for the spa and residents of Safety Harbor," Bandoni said. "People were concerned about other types of housing going back there. … People would like to see the property remain natural. I think it's a good thing for us to pursue."
City Manager Matthew Spoor presented the proposal to commissioners. The 15 acres could cost the city $3.8 million. Safety Harbor could borrow the money, or it could use Community Redevelopment Area or Penny for Pinellas funds to buy the property, Spoor said.
Safety Harbor Resort and Spa filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall. The spa, one of Florida's largest and oldest, was nearly $30 million in debt. A bankruptcy hearing will be held Wednesday at Tampa's Federal Courthouse.
"The spa is doing fine and with the restructuring, we expect operations will be financially healthier," said Steve Berman, the resort's attorney. "With a reduced debt load, things will be easier to manage and that's what was the purpose of the Chapter 11 in the first place. The goal was to continue the operation and scale back the debt load."
Berman said the resort's debt has been cut from $30 million to just under $14 million. The resort's original Wells Fargo loan was sold to German American Capital Corp., part of which will be repaid by selling property.
The city and the resort owners are preparing a contract for the city to purchase the land.
"It's a good relationship to have the Safety Harbor Spa and the city of Safety Harbor to partner up to utilize all of that space on Old Tampa Bay," Berman said. "That's going to be a positive for both the spa and its guests as well as the residents of the city to have that space preserved as park space, which is generally what the intent is."
For 60 years, the 22-acre hotel and spa has been a part of Safety Harbor's downtown and is listed on the state's register of historic places. It's known for the mineral springs that run beneath the property.
Commissioner Nancy Besore, who initially wanted a pool, was pleased with the possibility of having more park space in the city.
"This is similar to Christmas to me," she said of the possible land purchase. "This is so far superior as a legacy. It's fabulous."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes and (727) 445-4174.