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Boy Scouts may sell land

The Boy Scouts could provide Tampa's richest man with a toehold in one of the city's hottest commercial districts.

A company controlled by Eddie DeBartolo Jr., former owner of pro football's San Francisco 49ers, has signed a contract to buy about 8.5 acres of property across from International Plaza mall near the Westshore business district.

The sale price: $7.6-million.

The land is under contract to Commercial Development Associates, an affiliate of DeBartolo's real estate development firm, DeBartolo Property Group.

Scott I. "Skipper" Peek, executive vice president for development, said Thursday it was too early to say how DeBartolo will develop the property. The land is surrounded by office parks, restaurants and apartment complexes, as well as the mall.

At least one Hillsborough commissioner, Pat Frank, has questioned the sale, which is expected to close next year.

The county gave the property, part of an old city landfill, to the Gulf Ridge Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the MacDonald Training Center Foundation more than 20 years ago.

The land was supposed to revert to county ownership if either group stopped using it. But in return for commissioners relinquishing their interest in the property, the Gulf Ridge Council agreed to designate 520 acres it owns on the Alafia River as a perpetual conservation area, open it to the public and give the county $250,000.

The Council and MacDonald Training Center will reap all proceeds from the sale, which will allow them to relocate and expand.

Frank thinks the deal is too sweet and that the county could net a better return. But she lost a 5-1 vote taken by the commission on Nov. 7.

"I think it's a very bad business arrangement for us," Frank said. "I think that we could agree to provide some of the proceeds of the sale that the county would get for the Boy Scouts, but we could also keep some for ourselves."

Former Commissioner Chris Hart, who has been involved with scouting and worked closely on the transaction before leaving office last week, said the county will do fine under the deal. He said it frees the county of any financial responsibility for contamination on the site and puts a valuable piece of property on the tax rolls.

"At the same time, those kinds of organizations contribute to our community in so many ways that touch people's lives," Hart said. "So there is a greater benefit that our community is gaining."

Attempts to reach officials with the Council and MacDonald Training Center were unsuccessful. But the terms of the deal are spelled out in an Oct. 30 letter to the county from Gulf Ridge attorney Lewis Hill III.

The Council currently owns 2.83 acres on the southwest corner of Boy Scout Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue, given to it by the county in 1965. The Council intends to acquire the adjacent 5.7 acres given by the county in 1977 to the MacDonald Training Center, which assists the mentally disabled, for $1.75-million.

All of that property would then be sold to Commercial Development Associates for $7.6-million. The Council, which is looking for new headquarters, has an option to purchase land and buildings currently owned by Florida Mining and Materials near Fletcher Avenue west of Interstate 275 for $1.58-million.

MacDonald would use its take from the transaction to expand its center on Cypress Street.

And DeBartolo would get a piece of boomtown.

DeBartolo is the chief executive officer of Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., which built 51 malls in 16 states, including University Mall in Tampa and Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. He was listed as the 254th richest man in America last year by Forbes magazine.

In 1998, he pleaded guilty in federal court to failing to report a crime _ an extortion attempt in which DeBartolo gave former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards a briefcase containing $400,000 for Edwards' help in securing him a riverboat casino license.

He moved to Tampa last year and established DeBartolo Property Group with former Oakland Raiders tackle Ed Muransky. The company lists about two dozen properties and projects in eight states.

Local projects include a 1-million-square-foot mall called Cypress Creek Town Center in central Pasco County between Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes. His zoning application for 500 acres in Pasco County lists a 2008 completion date.

DeBartolo bought Tampa Bay Center, among the area's premier regional malls through the late 1970s. The company filed a plan this spring that calls for demolishing the mall and building a home improvement center, a discount store, a discount club, five restaurants, five specialty stores and a drug store on the site's 80 acres.

DeBartolo also has built a casual Italian restaurant called TuscaBella Grill & Patio Bar and a walk-up ice cream store named Ed & Eddie's Ice Cream, both near the AMC Veterans 24 theaters in Carrollwood. The company plans to expand the two brands to new locations.

His new venture would be along a fast-developing corridor near West Shore Boulevard.

Outback Steakhouse has built three new restaurants and a hotel at Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue.

Crescent Resources built two large office buildings, Corporate Center One and Two, on the north side of Boy Scout. The company will break ground later this year on Corporate Center Three, which will be home to the law firm Carlton Fields.