Dr. Kiran Patel has less than two weeks to prove to Clearwater city leaders that he still has partners who know how to build a first-class resort on Clearwater Beach. It was time for city officials to deliver that ultimatum.
In 2004 the city approved Patel's plan to build an enormous resort on 2.75 acres at the split of Coronado Avenue and S Gulfview Boulevard, where a Days Inn Motel and several other aging motels once stood.
Nothing has been built.
Last week Patel was back before the City Council, asking to extend his development agreement to get three more years to start construction. He and his attorney made frequent references to the terrible state of the economy. That subjected him to pointed questioning from council member Paul Gibson.
The economic problems are certainly serious, but they are a recent development, and Patel was unable to get the project started in 2004 or 2005 "when the money was available and flowing like water," Gibson said.
Patel, a cardiologist and wealthy philanthropist from Tampa, had no experience as a developer when he purchased the property on Clearwater Beach for $40-million and promised to build a premier resort there. The city gave Patel 250 rooms from a "density pool" of extra hotel units that was created to encourage developers to build resorts on south Clearwater Beach. Two other hotel developers who got rooms from the pool have their projects well under way.
Patel struggled for many months to create his development plan before finally bringing in as a partner the Related Group, a successful and prolific Florida developer. But no one from the Related Group has joined Patel at recent meetings, so Gibson wants proof from Patel that the Related Group is still onboard before he votes to extend the development agreement.
"With all due respect, sir, this is not something you know a lot about," Gibson said. "If Related is your quarterback for all these technical issues, you should never be here without them. I'd like to be assured that they are in this with both feet."
Patel told the council that Related is a 30 percent partner in the project and is committed through a signed partnership agreement. He said Related's job is to secure financing and a hotel operator. Neither task seems to be going well. Financing to begin construction has not been found, Patel acknowledged. As for a hotel company, talks Related has held with Westin don't seem likely to produce a partnership, Patel said. He is more hopeful that recent talks with Marriott could result in an agreement, but nothing has been signed, he said.
Gibson said he still wants to see someone from the Related Group standing with Patel and confirming their partnership.
Mayor Frank Hibbard wanted something, too. He wanted Patel to agree to pay for construction of an attractive temporary parking lot on the hotel site. The city has been leasing the bare land from Patel and operating an overflow dirt parking lot there, but the site is an eyesore overlooking the city's much-touted Beach Walk. During last week's meeting, Patel seemed prepared to pay up to $150,000 to cover the city's cost of grading, landscaping and irrigating the lot.
In the end, the council members merely voted to delay a decision on all of the matters related to the Patel development until their meeting on Dec. 4. They told Patel to bring his people from the Related Group to that meeting.
Patel's property is probably the most visible one on south Clearwater Beach. With Beach Walk completed, and with other hotels along that strip being built, council members are understandably nervous about giving Patel more time to start construction, especially since they have granted him substantial incentives. Yet with the economy tanking, Patel probably cannot move ahead immediately.
The council is walking a fine line in its dealings with Patel, but he owes the city assurance that his team is still together and focused on its tasks.