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But a long-term lease for a restaurant and a hotel is problematic.
Published Jul. 31, 2007

Five months after city commissioners rejected a development plan for a prime piece of downtown waterfront property, city leaders are now exploring whether to buy the land.

At issue is the property housing Bon Appetit restaurant and Best Western hotel, 150 Marina Plaza. The asking price: $4.6-million, according to a city memo. That price would include, apparently, honoring the remaining 38-year lease for both the restaurant and hotel.

The Bon Appetit restaurant is not going anywhere, said Peter Kreuziger, an owner of the restaurant. He said he was advised by his lawyer not to comment further.

The purchase option comes after commissioners rejected in February a developer's request to build a five story, 75-condominium project called Porte Royale there, saying it was incompatible with the surrounding area. Commissioners wanted the property to maintain its mixed-use character.

The property is owned by Van L. Phillips Jr. and his two sisters who are trustees of the Adeline W. Phillips Trust. Phillips could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

City Attorney John Hubbard and City Manager Robert DiSpirito are meeting with individual commissioners this week to discuss interest in purchasing the property.

Whether commissioners will sign on, however, is unclear. The matter has yet to be discussed in public and financing is uncertain.

Mayor Bob Hackworth said the city should be a player in making sure the property is redeveloped. But he questioned if owning the property was in the city's best interest.

"I don't think there's any public benefit to owning the property that's encumbered by a 38-year lease," he said.

Options to preserve the property from development should be explored, said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski.

"It's a prime piece of property right at the end of our downtown and I haven't meet too many citizens yet that haven't said they wouldn't want to see that piece of property preserved for a lifetime," she said.

But, she added, that doesn't mean it's financially possible.

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he wants a public meeting on the idea, which he expects next month.

Hubbard, who wrote a memo to the commissioners June 27 about the purchase opportunity, asked for direction soon from the commission.

"Because of the fact that the beneficiaries of the Trust think that the property would be best in public hands, they are being patient, but I suspect if they receive a private offer that is attractive to them, that patience may be limited," he wrote in his memo.

The price tag of at least one other prime waterfront property has hampered the city recently: a 6-acre parcel straddling Bayshore Boulevard that would be used for a park. The city expects to learn in September whether the state will give it a multimillion-dollar grant toward that buy. The land is owned by country music songwriter, millionaire and longtime Dunedin resident J.C. Weaver.