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New lodge embraced by majority of council

(ran West, East)

If council members had been voting Tuesday, the city welcomes the idea of an economy extended-stay hotel to Park Boulevard.

That much was obvious after the attorney for Suburban Lodges of America asked council members, who were sitting as Pinellas Park's Community Redevelopment Agency, for an indication of how they felt about the proposal.

Mayor Bill Mischler and council members Patricia Bailey and Ed Taylor support the deal.

Council members Rick Butler and Chuck Williams oppose it.

Taylor said the city can collect taxes and other fees from the hotel to benefit Pinellas Park.

Butler, who is head of the redevelopment agency, said he never would vote in favor of the proposal.

Suburban has more than 65 lodges in 12 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. About 40 other sites are under construction in cities that include Nashville, St. Louis and Indianapolis.

Catering to business travelers, Suburban has contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Applebee's, Danka, Honeywell, AutoZone, State Farm Insurance, the American Red Cross and United Parcel Service.

Atlanta-based Suburban would pay $430,000 plus closing costs for 3.05 acres the city owns at 4385 Park Blvd. That's $10,000 more than the company originally offered earlier this year.

Pinellas Park would agree to change the zoning on the property so Suburban could build an 18,000-square-foot, three-story hotel with approximately 132 rooms.

The City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, is scheduled to make a final decision at its May 7 meeting. If members accept Suburban's offer, the company will have 45 days to make sure that it is feasible to put the hotel on that site.

Suburban estimates the project will cost at least $3.9-million. That includes $430,000 for the land; $110,000 for development; $475,000 for site work; and $2.9-million for construction.

A suite would include a combination living room and bedroom with a bath and a fully equipped kitchen. Rooms would be furnished.

Guests, some of whom stay several weeks, pay from $139 to $189 per week and $149 to $209 a week for double occupancy at the company's other hotels.

If the deal becomes final, it likely would mark the end of a contentious fight.

When Suburban first announced its intention to buy the Park Boulevard property, then-Mayor Cecil Bradbury greeted the company with outstretched arms and raves for choosing Pinellas Park. Proponents saw it as part of a turnaround for the city's redevelopment area and an asset to the tax rolls.

Others such as Butler, who was running for office at the time, were more skeptical.

Opponents pointed to a stockholder lawsuit that accused company officials of failing to inform investors of the adverse impact on stock prices from opening many hotels at one time.

Opponents also worried that an economy extended-stay hotel would attract undesirables.

But those issues were not mentioned Tuesday night.

Instead, Williams said he was concerned about the density of the project and having that many rooms in about 3.05 acres.

Suburban said most of its projects of this size are on smaller lots that range from 1.9 to 2.25 acres.

Since this deal hinges on a zoning change, Butler said he was more concerned about the message sent to others in the redevelopment area that the city will not play by its own rules and will work to benefit itself while unfairly burdening business owners and residents.

The parcel originally had B-1 zoning, which allows business uses, such as hotels.

Pinellas Park changed that to MXD, a more restrictive zoning that limits the number of units that can be placed on a piece of property. It also allows for mixed residential and business uses on the same land at the same time.

Butler wants the city to re-examine zoning in the redevelopment area because the city has held business owners to other restrictive rules in the redevelopment district. Now, when it's the city that is inconvenienced by its own rules, he said, the city changes them to suit itself.

"Obviously, the redevelopment plan is not working," Butler said Friday. "That's the message I've been touting for weeks now, but everyone says it doesn't rain in Pinellas Park."

Butler pointed out that in the redevelopment's 10-year history, only one project has been brought in under the MXD zoning. That was First Baptist Church in the 5400 block of Park.

Home Depot came in under the B1 zoning. That means, Butler said, the MXD zoning is not appealing to developers or anybody interested in coming into the redevelopment area.