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Pennsylvania pair has deal to buy historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin

DUNEDIN — A Pennsylvania real estate development team confirmed Friday that it has reached a verbal deal to purchase the iconic Fenway Hotel.

Christy Bower said she and her father-turned-business partner James Bower got word from PNC Bank Thursday that their offer to buy the foreclosed 6.4-acre waterfront tract at 453 Edgewater Drive was accepted.

She declined to reveal the purchase price. The real estate website Loopnet.com lists the property's value at $3.9 million.

Bower said the bank made the closing date contingent on final approval by the city, which will present the plan in coming weeks to neighbors, a citizen advisory board and the City Commission. The property is in receivership and must also get a judge's approval before the Bowers can assume control of the land, officials said.

A PNC spokesman declined to comment Friday.

The Bowers plan to demolish the deteriorating historic landmark and build in its place a 90-room boutique hotel featuring 1920s interiors and artifacts, about 30 waterside condos and up to 19,000 square feet of conference space. The hotel would be similar in size to what's there now and retain the same look and name as the original Fenway.

Bower hopes to receive final city and bank approval by June, start construction by September and open a year later.

"I'm super excited about it because I just love the area, and it means a lot to me," said Bower, who plans to move here permanently to oversee development and operations. "It's not just a project, but a project in a city that has a lot of soul as well."

James Bower, who said he has developed about 10 hotels up north, said he and his daughter discovered the Fenway last year and immediately fell in love with its history as well as Dunedin's charm.

Built in the 1920s, the Fenway briefly housed the county's first radio station, then for decades catered to famous hotel guests such as baseball great Babe Ruth and several silent film actors. It became the campus of Trinity Bible College in 1961, then Schiller International University in 1991.

George Rahdert, a preservationist and St. Petersburg attorney who represents the Tampa Bay Times, purchased the hotel in 2006, planning to restore and expand it into a 132-room resort and spa. But the project was derailed by the poor economy and neighborhood opposition.

Since then, multiple entities, including the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America, have shown interest in the site but stopped short of purchase. Meanwhile, a judge appointed a receiver to oversee upkeep amid complaints from PNC, neighbors and law enforcement that squatters, vandals, deterioration and vermin were quickly turning the hotel into a "public safety hazard."

In addition to the Bowers, Convergent Capital Partners LLC, a prominent Tampa development firm, was among bidders the bank considered, CEO Santosh Govindaraju confirmed this week.

In January, Dunedin commissioners approved ordinances that allow the Fenway's purchaser to raze the structure so it can be rebuilt to modern safety codes and lets condo owners rent back to the hotel to increase capacity during special events.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito said Friday that he is "relieved and excited" to hear the Bowers are a step closer to carrying out what appears to be an "extremely viable" plan.

"The Fenway has been dark for a long time," he said. "We look forward to assisting (the Bowers) and are very happy that the site will finally be sold and the commission's vision of a hotel use will be pursued."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

Pennsylvania pair has deal to buy historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 7:12pm]
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