Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Temple Terrace pauses settlement with downtown developer Vlass

TEMPLE TERRACE — It's a bit too soon to crank up the earth-moving machines at the Downtown Temple Terrace site.

The City Council, seemingly on the verge of a settlement with developer Vlass Temple Terrace over the long-stalled complex, held off approval this week at the urging of City Attorney Mark Connolly.

The council was prepared to approve paying $2 million to Vlass to sever the partnership and get back the undeveloped property when Connolly announced that "the terms of the settlement have not been fully agreed on.''

In an interview after Tuesday's meeting, Connolly said city negotiators realized after the city and Vlass appeared before a court mediator "that there are terms that we thought we had agreed upon that remain unresolved.''

He and City Manager Gerald Seeber declined to say whether resolving those issues would change the $2 million figure.

Delay has defined the proposed $150 million office-retail-residential-cultural community for more than two years. Vlass and the city disagreed about myriad details of the complex, especially the look of the proposed apartment buildings in the northeast corner of the tract, which stretches along the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. The city wanted retail on the first floors to give the promenade in front of it a "Main Street'' feel. Vlass argued that such a plan would not work in a struggling economy.

The city borrowed $24 million to buy and improve the 29-acre site. When Vlass and the council signed the contract in June 2009, the city turned the property over to Vlass with the stipulation that Vlass build the Mediterranean-style community according to the vision the city laid out in its grand development plan.

In a lawsuit filed this year, the city charged that Vlass breached the contract by not starting work on the cultural center and other buildings on time. Vlass countersued, arguing that the city violated the contract clause that calls for the council to use "reasonable discretion'' to adjust plans in the face of changing economic conditions.

Had the two sides parted amicably, the contract called for Vlass to return the 22 acres of undeveloped land to the city after the city reimbursed Vlass for whatever work had been completed on it. Vlass argued that because of the breach, Vlass now owns that undeveloped land. But the company offered to turn it back over to the city for $3.8 million.

As it stands, only the middle section of the property, with a Winn-Dixie and flanking stores, is finished. To the north, where the apartments, cultural center and businesses are planned, an empty expanse is centered by a gazebo and statue of former Mayor Joe Affronti, a longtime proponent of building the downtown the city never had.

Affronti, who as mayor broke a tie vote to approve the contract with Vlass, said the company's unveiling of the statue in December 2011 caught him by surprise.

"I just had absolutely no idea,'' he said at the time. "I'm very honored and humbled by it.''

Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.

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