Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Seminole agrees to purchase former Jesse's Landing land for recreational area

SEMINOLE — City Council has agreed to buy the waterfront land that once was home to the landmark Jesse's Landing restaurant.

In a unanimous action last month, council members voted for the $700,000 purchase of the 8-acre site from the Trust for Public Lands. Plans are to build a recreational area with such features as a canoe and kayak launch, playground facility, exercise course, and volleyball and tennis courts. The acreage fronts Long Bayou.

The money will come from several sources, Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds said. About $215,000 will be taken from funds the city set aside to buy recreational space. Officials will pull another $400,000 from savings in the capital improvements fund, and the remainder will be Penny for Pinellas dollars.

Edmunds said the city will apply for a $200,000 state recreational grant, which can be used to replace some of the money.

A recent appraisal valued the land at about $815,000 and the Pinellas County Property Appraiser put its worth at about $850,000.

Construction on the land has, in the past, been hampered by debris on the property, but Edmunds said there's no need for concern about hazardous substances. Environmental tests have found no pollutants. The site was used as a dumping place mostly for landscape debris such as tree stumps. And, he said, another assessment will be done before the sale.

The land has a tortured history.

Jesse's Landing was opened in April 1968 by Jesse Johnson, a city of Seminole founder who also established Seminole Mall. The restaurant, at 10400 Park Blvd. just east of the intersection of Seminole Boulevard, became a landmark that was commonly used when giving directions to the city.

The restaurant was sold to Johnson's son, Richard, in 1987. Then, in July 1998, the business abruptly closed with no explanation. Two years later, a small fire, blamed on lightning, broke out in the deserted building. And in December 2000, with no explanation, the building was demolished.

Richard C. Johnson died in 2001 and his estate held the property until 2003 when it was sold to Lofts on the Park for about $1.7 million. The company proposed building 66 three-story townhomes on the property. Those never materialized.

Belleair Capital Group considered buying the property but backed out after a soil survey concluded that building on the site would be complicated by the presence of "potentially deleterious materials" that included debris that had been used to fill the site.

Bethesda Developers bought the land for about $3.5 million in 2005 intending to build upscale townhomes.

But Bethesda changed its plans and, in 2007, asked the city to alter the zoning to allow a commercial development. The Seminole council tentatively agreed, provided the commercial project include a hotel and access to the Home Depot next door.

North Carolina-based Branch Banking and Trust foreclosed, though, when Bethesda could not make its mortgage payments. A judge ordered the property be sold in 2010.

Now the Trust for Public Land wants to buy it. Founded in 1972, the national nonprofit organization that helps local communities create funding for parks and open space.

In this case, the Trust plans to pay $700,000 for the land, which it will then sell to Seminole for the same price.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

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