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Central Plaza project is termed possible

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Plans for a movie studio and amusement park in Central Plaza still are possible, even if the city will not guarantee a $20-million bank loan, a City Council member said Tuesday.

"It's realistic to look at anything anyone can propose for Central Plaza," said City Council member Leslie Curran. "The developers need to sit back down and regroup . . . and if there are any other significant things the city can do to help, we need to do that. This is an area that needs revitalizing."

The plaza, in the city's geographic center at U.S. 19 and Central Avenue, was once Tampa Bay's first big shopping center. It faced tough times as retailers moved west to the Tyrone area.

The center boasts a healthy supply of potential customers along U.S. 19, but its reputation has taken a bruising. Last month, Home Depot decided not to relocate there because a customer survey showed that people were afraid the area was not safe.

"Central Plaza's really gotten a bad rap over the past few years," Curran said. "And it shouldn't have. It's a prime location."

Larry D. Faw, president and chairman of a company that wants to construct a $43-million Studio City project, agrees.

Faw, president of Fawnsworth International Pictures Corp. of Orlando, wants to construct an amusement park, back lot tour and a full-service production back lot.

Faw's proposed financing includes $18-million from the sale of public stock and a $20-million bank loan _ one Faw wants the city officials to "co-guarantee," according to John Allison of Lambrecht & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg.

Since last fall, Allison has been encouraging Faw, who had been looking at sites in other cities, to bring the project to St. Petersburg. If the city agreed to the guarantee arrangement, it would have been responsible for the loan if Studio City defaulted.

Earlier this month, Mayor David Fischer said no.

"It's the mayor's belief that when you start co-guaranteeing financing, you're using the city's credit," said Tony Collins, the city's director of housing and economic development.

Curran doesn't argue with that. "That's probably a good move," she said. "But we could support them in other ways."

Faw's group should take another look at financing options, Curran said. And, she said, the city should think again about what other kinds of help it could offer the group.