Friday, May 25, 2018
Opinion

Steinle: Cheers go up for Dunedin Victoria Place project

The excitement some Dunedin officials and residents are expressing over a proposed project on the west end of Main Street almost feels out of proportion to its size.

The long-vacant lot at 200 Main St. is only 1.27 acres, yet people can scarcely contain themselves when talking about St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem's plan for 30 condos and a retail strip there one block off St. Joseph Sound.

"This is going to be a new, unique and we can even say iconic building for the downtown," gushed planning and development director Greg Rice at a City Commission meeting.

"I'm very excited about this project," said normally unexcitable Commissioner Julie Scales.

"All of this ... is just a blessing," added Tom Bowers, whose very nice home is next door.

There are some good reasons people could have opposed this project.

Reason 1: It is smack in the middle of the most congested spot in Dunedin, the cramped intersection of Edgewater Drive and Main Street.

Reason 2: It could worsen an already serious parking problem downtown.

And Reason 3: Victoria Drive, the city's most beloved and historic residential street, is the project's western boundary.

But those issues were scarcely raised as the commission gave unanimous preliminary approval May 1 to a development agreement and the project site plan.

That's partly because of the developers involved. Cheezem's JMC Communities has had the Midas touch, with successful hotel and high-rise condo projects on Clearwater Beach and in downtown St. Petersburg. For the Dunedin project, dubbed Victoria Place, he is partnering with Tarpon Springs construction company owner Joe Kokolakis, who developed the Ron Jon Surf Shop/Hooters restaurant project on Clearwater Beach.

City officials believe Cheezem's presence could lure other high-end developers to Dunedin, and they like that both men know Dunedin and appreciate its unique vibe. They are impressed that the developers hired three architects to rework the design of Victoria Place repeatedly.

"We want it to feel like it belongs in Dunedin," Cheezem explained.

Other reasons for the excitement: The 10,000-square-foot retail strip will continue Dunedin's bustling downtown business district westward toward the city marina. The condos, which will sell for $450,000 to $750,000, will attract residents with disposable income. The project will boost tax collections in the Community Redevelopment District that can be reinvested there. And Victoria Place will be a fine complement to the Gateway, a project slated to bring apartments and retail to the east end of Main Street.

At the May 1 meeting, officials voiced just the teeniest bit of concern about those potentially big problems of parking and congestion. Almost as an afterthought, they said they would work with the Florida Department of Transportation on the congestion and will consider hiring professionals to develop a parking management plan and financing options for a parking garage.

Dunedin has made smart decisions over the last couple of decades that resulted in a lively downtown with quality restaurants, unique shops, music, art and popular outdoor events.

While it is exciting that downtown now has caught the eye of major developers, city officials need to take the sober long view and make certain that parking problems and traffic jams don't blunt the opportunity for future growth and public enjoyment.

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