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Yacht Club shelves plan for garage

The St. Petersburg Yacht Club's controversial plans for a five-level parking garage have been put on hold indefinitely, a Yacht Club official said Monday. The club temporarily abandoned the project because Bay Plaza Cos., the city's master downtown developer, has not purchased the club's nearby parking lot, said the club's commodore, Richard G. Jones Jr.

Yacht Club officials were going to use the money they earned from the lot sale to build the parking garage, opposed by some who said it would block the waterfront.

"So why should we build a garage?" Jones said.

Plans for the parking garage were keyed to plans to redevelop downtown, transforming it into a shopping and entertainment center. But the downtown redevelopment project has stalled because of the national economic recession.

Last week, there was more news on that front when developer Neil Elsey, plagued with personal financial problems, resigned as leader of St. Petersburg's $200-million downtown redevelopment program. He was replaced as president of the Bay Plaza Cos. by Robert L. Jackson Jr., a vice president with J.C. Nichols Co. Nichols is the Kansas City development company that has been the muscle behind the Bay Plaza project and has now taken full control of it.

In October 1990, St. Petersburg City Council members gave the Yacht Club permission to build the parking garage behind the club's building at 11 Central Ave. The approval freed the Yacht Club to surrender the parking lot it owns a block away, on the northwest corner of First Street and First Avenue N.

Bay Plaza needed the property before it could begin construction on a retail complex. Essentially, the arrangement was a swap. If the city agreed to approve the Yacht Club's parking garage, the Yacht Club would sell its lot to Bay Plaza.

But Bay Plaza never bought the lot.

In a May 25 letter to its members, Yacht Club officials said Bay Plaza apparently has no plans to buy the lot.

"This construction slowdown .


. has caused Bay Plaza to put the purchase of the First and First parking lot on the back burner," the letter said. "It appears that the property will not be sold for the foreseeable future."

Opponents of the project were thrilled but not surprised that the Yacht Club had put plans for the garage on hold.

"I thought it was a poor choice to put the garage there in the first place," said St. Petersburg resident Peter Belmont. "I thought it was kind of building another building where we had some open space."

St. Petersburg attorney Tom Reese said he wasn't surprised.

"I figure Bay Plaza is history, so their parking garage is history," he said.

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