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City says garage delay means avenue stays

The closing of First Avenue NE, a City Council decision that caused an uproar last October, may never come to pass. The road-closing was part of a controversial plan that allowed the St. Petersburg Yacht Club to build a 255-space garage and expand its waterfront club if the club sold a piece of land to the city's master developer _ the Bay Plaza Cos.

Earlier this week, Yacht Club officials commented publicly that their plans to build a garage had been put on hold. City attorneys, who have investigated the matter, say that if the garage isn't built, Yacht Club officials cannot force the city to close the street.

"If they don't build a garage, can the street be vacated? The answer is no," said John Wolfe, chief assistant city attorney.

But Yacht Club commodore Richard G. Jones Jr. said the Yacht Club has not abandoned plans to build the garage. The club merely has postponed construction.

The Yacht Club has put the garage project on hold because the money to pay for the project was to come from selling a parking lot to Bay Plaza. Since Bay Plaza has announced that its project is on hold, the Yacht Club's garage plans are similarly affected.

Bay Plaza needs the Yacht Club lot for the so-called Mid-Core phase of its planned $200-million shopping and entertainment district. Construction has not begun on Mid-Core, and Bay Plaza officials have said it will be "demand-driven."

It is possible, then, that Mid-Core might never be built, and Bay Plaza might not ever need to purchase the Yacht Club land for the project.

That puts the Yacht Club in the position of possibly having to go back before the city to modify the plan previously approved, said Mark Winn, assistant city attorney.

The Yacht Club already has begun to upgrade its facilities, part of the approved plan. If the club wants to drop part of the plan _ the garage _ then it will have to get city approval, Winn said.

City Council members are scheduled to hear a presentation on the matter today, Winn said.

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