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Irked mayor to reduce business recruiting

Mayor Curtis Rich, frustrated after days of defending himself against casino boat opponents and explaining himself to newspapers, now says he will limit his efforts to recruit new business.

"I don't think I'm going to try too much business development for a while," Rich said. "I think it's a thankless job."

Since his election as mayor in 1990, Rich has taken on an unofficial role as a promoter of local business. He said he decided to back off on efforts to lure business partly because of media coverage of the yacht club sale.

Last week, City Manager Roger Baltz sent a letter to Clearwater businessman Tim North, who is among a group of investors interested in developing the yacht club property. Rich has been working with the investors, acting as a liaison between them and property owner Anthony Marino.

Little is known about North: Rich supplied Baltz no address, and the mayor forwarded the letter to North. Rich has said North is affiliated with an international business.

This group of investors is interested in opening a restaurant at the former yacht club site and possibly bringing a casino boat to it, Rich has said.

Officials at another company, SunCruz Casino of Port Richey, say they have also made an offer to buy the land. The state Department of Environmental Protection is trying to purchase the property and add it to the Crystal River State Buffer Preserve as an eco-tourism and education center.

Marino has said he will decide on a buyer by Tuesday.

Rich asked Baltz to draft the letter, which describes city zoning regulations and other land development information. The letter discusses building permit fees and occupational licensing, among other issues.

Rich said media coverage of the land sale will be partly responsible if a casino gambling boat does dock in the Crystal River.

"One thing about it, you guys have generated a lot of interest in them doing something in Crystal River," he told a reporter Wednesday.

In some ways, he said, opponents of the casino boat have prompted more inquiries from gambling ship operators.

"I know a lot of what the people were trying to do is slow it down and keep it out of here," Rich said, "and I think what they've done is attract it to Crystal River."

Rich said he has no plans to meet with the investors again unless they request more information about city regulations at the yacht club property. He said he will likely refer most of those questions to the city manager.

"I think they've gotten everything from the city they needed," Rich said. "I was just trying to accommodate everyone."