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Naimolis buy into Central Ave. future

The Head Devil Ray, his brother and his lawyer are now property owners along Central Avenue, the commercial corridor closest to Tropicana Field, home of the Devil Rays.

The purchase of the 1-acre site by Vince and Raymond Naimoli along with attorney John Higgins comes as the interest in sites along Central Avenue intensifies. Baseball is drawing nigh.

As if to underscore that interest, city crews began tearing up Central this week to install new water and sewer lines before the street gets a major facelift. The makeover is being undertaken to make the area inviting for the crowds expected for baseball.

So what gives with the parcel at 930 Central Ave. that was purchased for $650,000 in mid-July by the three baseball partners? A parking lot? A Burger King? The next Hard Rock Cafe?

"We haven't decided what specifically we're going to do with it," said Higgins, vice president and counsel with the Devil Rays organization. "We don't have specific plans for the property right now. In the short term, I suppose we could make it available for parking."

Interest in the site of the old Best Audio Visual store and an adjacent empty lot is understandable. Those familiar with it describe it as one of the largest, if not the largest, commercial parcel along that stretch of Central.

Its price is hardly unprecedented. Pinellas property appraisal records show that members of the Barger family bought the site for the same $650,000 in 1989, when the now-defunct Bay Plaza redevelopment project, not baseball, served to drive up land values in the area.

More recently, the site was owned by a partnership headed by Joann Barger and Dan Doyle Jr., son of Danka Industries chief executive Dan Doyle. Records show that the partnership bought it earlier this year for $305,000. The latest property appraisal by the county values the site at $392,900.

"We were aware that the property was on the market. We had discussions with the owners, and we, the principals, decided to acquire it," Higgins said. He was careful to point out that the purchase was made by a three-member partnership, not the Devil Rays baseball team.

To determine the property's value, "we talked to some real estate professionals. We also got an appraisal on the property," he said.

Higgins has an earlier tie to the site. "I represented the lender on that property back in 1989 when the Barger family acquired it. That was one of the loans that I closed."

While Vince Naimoli, the Rays' managing general partner, his brother, the club's senior vice president and chief financial officer, and Higgins may have higher profiles than many Central Avenue business owners, it's clear interest in the area has grown in recent months.

"There has been a lot of talk about it," Bob Jeffrey, manager of the city's development review services, said of the so-called Dome District. "Our call volume is up."

Within his office, "we probably get five to 10 calls per week from people looking to do things. Years ago, maybe if we got one call a month or one call every six months, we'd be doing good for that area."

Yeah, there's a lot of activity, and people are interested."

Real estate agent Michael Seimetz agreed. Seimetz, who focuses on commercial sales, sold the old Al Estes Bail Bonds office at 1421 Central Ave. a couple of months ago. The buyers told him they plan a restaurant for the site.

"Your seeing the activity beginning to pick up now, and it's going to run right on past the opening of baseball" in the spring of 1998, he said.

"I'm getting calls from people in Colorado who are talking about microbreweries, and I'm getting calls from people in Chicago. Between now and the end of the year, it's going to be a hotbed," Seimetz said.

Wednesday, though, as city dump trucks rumbled by and dust wafted through the air, the closed-off thoroughfare looked more pitiful than hot.

Even so, Higgins had no trouble seeing good things for the future: "We believe that the whole area along Central Avenue is going to see a lot of development at some point in time."

"All of Central Avenue, eventually, will be developed. The city is working hard to determine what the ambiance of the Central Avenue district is going to be," Higgins said.

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