ST. PETERSBURG — It was a slow, expensive death for the towering idea that was to be built on the patch of grass at the northwest corner of Second Street N and First Avenue N.
For just shy of a decade, hope sprung then preserved then dwindled that the four-star luxury Grand Bohemian — with 25-plus stories, 250-some rooms and an aura of class and sophistication — would someday climb into St. Petersburg's skyline.
This week, any lingering hope was extinguished
The City Council agreed to a plan Thursday that will allow hotel developer Kessler Enterprise of Orlando to sell the property to an Atlanta developer that city officials say intends to build a high-rise tower of about 300 upscale rentals, which could start going up as early as next year.
The city sold the property to Kessler in 2004 for $3.3 million, but the company couldn't pay the full price up front. City officials agreed to a $1.5 million IOU to seal the deal. It seemed ground was constantly on the verge of being broken, but the recession arrived and credit became harder to obtain.
"We have been diligent in our pursuit of this hotel and residential development project with considerable costs expended far in excess of those which we could recoup from the sale of the land," Kessler vice president Day B. Dantzler wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to the city. "The deterioration of the overall economy, financial lending markets and St. Petersburg hospitality market are all factors beyond our control."
Kessler still owes the city $1.4 million for the property. It pledged to pay $900,000 on Aug. 15 and the remainder on Jan. 3 or when the sale closes, whichever happens first.
City Council members had differing opinions on the announcement.
"I would prefer that we build what the market will support," said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse. "I don't think it's a bad thing to adjust to economic conditions."
Council member Leslie Curran was less accepting.
"It is disappointing, I think mainly just because of the whole concept of the Kessler hotels," she said. "I think it would be a fabulous addition to St. Pete."
The Grand Bohemian in Orlando, for example, has a AAA Four-Diamond restaurant, a ritzy lounge, a spa and an art gallery.
Curran also pointed to last year's Republican National Convention — when the city lacked enough hotel rooms to accommodate thousands of visitors who instead went north or to the beaches — as an example of the need for something like the Bohemian here.
"It's a shame," she said, "that we don't have more of that downtown."