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Dunedin may get condos, retail space

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A local developer plans to turn an aging motel and apartment building into a $30-million mixed-use complex with $500,000 condos and commercial retail space.

Richard Gehring, a principal of Prime Dunedin, intends to purchase Sun Blest Apartments, the Bay Palms Motel and a 102-year-old house on the corner of Main Street and Victoria Drive.

In their place, he wants to build four floors of condominiums over one floor of retail space.

"I think our predominant market is the empty nesters of north Pinellas County who would like to live in downtown Dunedin," he said. "This is aimed at a resident owner, not a second homeowner _ someone who wants to leave their single-family home."

Gehring, who has partnered with Jim Egnew and Clearwater attorney Bill Kimpton to form Prime Dunedin, became interested in purchasing the property late last year. The 1.6-acre parcel is across the street from his office.

While plans are still preliminary and he has not closed on all of the property, Gehring envisions 46 or 48 condo units ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet with views of St. Joseph's Sound and the Dunedin Municipal Marina. The retail portion would front Main Street.

He wants to renovate the old house, which had served as three apartment units, and turn it into a recreation center. An old railroad caboose that was once a workshop on the property will be removed, along with an eight-car garage.

The property has an unusual history dating to the 1870s, when George Jones, a downtown merchant, had a home there, said Vinnie Luisi, director of the Dunedin Historical Society.

During the early 1900s, the property was home to a boardinghouse called the Blue Moon Inn, said Woodrow Register, who was president of Bank of Dunedin at the time.

"This is where people stayed when they came to Dunedin when they were here for a few days or a month," said Register, 88.

Dr. John Mease Jr. purchased the Blue Moon in the mid 1920s and operated it as a 10-bed sanitarium until 1936.

According to Dunedin Through the Years. . ., "It was not for tuberculosis victims, as the word was commonly used in those days. Nor could it be considered a true hospital, since there was no provision for surgical procedures.

More than anything else, it was a diagnostic center where patients could be bedded down and cared for while tests were being carried out in the laboratory, a part of the setup."

Charles Clinton Washburn, who owned Honeymoon Island, also owned the property before Sun Blest Apartments was built in the 1950s.

The apartments are home to 26 families who rent on a month-to-month basis. Those tenants have not been notified, said Maria and Laszlo Somogyi, the owners for nine years. Prime Dunedin has not closed on that property yet.

"It was a hard decision to sell after owning it for nearly nine years, said Maria Somogyi. "It's going to be a crying day for me when it's sold and demolished. But on the other hand, I'm happy for the city of Dunedin and the people that are going to benefit from this project."

That corner is a prime location, said economic development director Bob Ironsmith. He said the proposed mixed-use development would bring more people downtown.

"It would really further assist us in getting a connection to Main Street," he said. "That's really what we want to do, as far as pedestrian, as far as a gateway, all that comes in conjunction with the property."

Gehring has long ties to Dunedin city government. He was planning director from 1974 to 1979 and city manager from 1979 to 1982 when the city began redevelopment.

During his tenure, he coordinated a $13.5-million yearly budget and supervised a staff of 400 workers. He also spearheaded the city's comprehensive plan, which outlined growth and services until 2000.

He resigned in June 1982 to take a job with a private engineering and planning firm. Since then, he has remained active, serving as interim city commissioner, chairman of the Dunedin Inclusion Task Force and more recently a consultant to the new community center.

Egnew and Gehring formed Prime Interests in 1988 to partner on large development management projects, such as the Channelside District and Dodge Island in Miami.

Locally, they worked on the Seashell Beach Resort in Clearwater and the Shady Lane subdivision in Wall Springs.

This mixed-use complex is the company's first project in Dunedin.

Construction on the project would not begin until 2006. The developers are referring to the site as 200 Main.

"This is a major investment, a major parcel," he said. "It should relate to the image and character of downtown, produce a lot of upscale housing for people to be part of downtown."

Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or