Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Al Meyer made a difference in Hudson

It is difficult to discern that Al Meyer is slowing down.

He just turned 89. He hits the gym three times a week and he still works the telephone and computer at the desk set up as a home office.

But, Meyer moved from Hudson's waterfront to the Club Wildwood mobile home community last year and now a "for sale'' sign sticks out of the yard. He let his real estate license lapse and next month he will pack his clothes, get in his white sedan and drive north to Cincinnati for the final time. His wife of more than 60 years, Kathy, has passed away and now their adult children, grandchildren and six great-grandchildren are beckoning him home.

After four decades, Al Meyer is leaving town, but he is leaving it a better place.

He was one of the founders of the Hudson Seafest, the charity that used profits from its annual November festival to build sidewalks on Hudson Avenue, Old Dixie Highway and Clark Street. Later, Meyer got 200 palm trees donated from a South Florida tree farm and had them installed around the community of 6.4 square miles. For years, he did some of the frond trimming himself.

He was the leading advocate for the nearly 20-year push to dredge the Hudson Channel to boost the commercial fishing industry and, potentially, to draw lure significantly larger recreational boats to Hudson. The channel, however, is more narrow than envisioned. The big boats never materialized and the area still awaits commercial redevelopment.

The outcome of the dredge is clearly a disappointment, but the man has very few. Meyer never got wealthy, but he is enriched by personal friendships and by Hudson itself.

"I'm going to miss him,'' said Property Appraiser Mike Wells who was the resident county commissioner from Hudson for eight years. He worked with Meyer on the sidewalks — it took a new ordinance so the county could match the Seafest contribution — and on the dredge.

Meyer also is a man of strong opinions. He was a frequent author of letters to the editor of this newspaper and each correspondence included the same salutation, "Keep smiling.''

This week, Meyer began telling friends and acquaintances of his plans. Wednesday morning, we sat at his kitchen table and reminisced.

Of what is he most proud?

"I'm just proud of the growth of Hudson. I think we accomplished a lot.''

He declines to provide a farewell message, but he loves to tell about the first time he set his eyes on Hudson.

Meyer had come to Tampa from Cincinnati on a business trip and decided to look at a vacant house. A family member had noticed a national real estate listing and the asking price was $10,000.

This was in 1969 and bustling commercial and residential activity hadn't saturated west Pasco yet. Meyer drove west from Tampa on State Road 60 and then north on U.S. 19 and finally stopped at a general store to use the telephone after crossing State Road 52.

"Where the hell am I?''

The real estate agent told him he had not driven far enough. He finally saw the house, on a dirt road called Birch Street, and thought it might be suitable as a fishing camp. He asked about renting a boat. The guy showing him the house said his boss had one for sale for $1,500.

Meyer made his first Florida deal. He told the Realtor he'd take the house for 10 grand — even though he never saw the inside — and got the agent to throw in the boat at no extra charge.

A food broker by profession, Meyer and Kathy moved to Hudson full-time just a few years later and neither he nor the community ever looked back. He opened a fast-food restaurant called Mac's, but closed almost immediately when McDonald's set up shop across the street. Mac's became a steak house and then the Seaport Inn, a highly successful fine dining restaurant on U.S. 19 in Port Richey. Boston clam chowder was 75 cents. Prime rib was $5.95 or you could get the gourmet four-course dinner for just a dollar more.

The restaurant beget real estate deals and ownership of the Hudson Marina and a private utility and everything else that goes along with investing in real estate while investing in the community.

"One day it was the utility business, the next day we're building a road. I didn't know anything about it.''

He looks around now and sees problems from the past but potential in the future. He wonders and worries about the aging, inexpensive housing stock of west Pasco that lured retirees here in the 1960s and '70s, but he thinks the proposed SunWest Harbourtowne and adjoining county park will be magnificent. "I wish I was 40 years younger. I'd like to be involved in that.''

He has one more deal left. He wants to sell the mobile home and all the furnishings before leaving Hudson for good.

"If I could find the right buyer,'' said Meyer, "I'd sell everything including the food in the refrigerator."

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