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If not Braves ballpark, Toytown development options include solar panel complex or town center

Published Sep. 23, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — If the former Toytown landfill site does not become a multimillion-dollar sports park, it could be converted into a state of the art solar panel complex or a multiuse town center with businesses, residences and recreational facilities.

Charles Puccini, developing coordinator for the proposed SunRay Park, said his pitch for the solar energy facility is an attempt to change the way renewable energy is viewed across the state.

"I'm trying to get Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, Fla., to be the place where solar power finally gets developed to be used as capacity power, and this would change the world, of course," Puccini said Tuesday.

Puccini, former president of the Tampa Bay-based foundation drilling company Coastal Caisson Corp., has proposed a three-stage development plan. The first phase would convert the dome-shaped landfill into a usable surface by building a wall around the 40-foot-high mound and filling the empty space with ash to create an elevated, level base.

The second phase would plant 150,000 solar panels on 135 acres to generate up to 10 megawatt hours of solar power a day, making it one of the largest renewable energy complexes in the state, Puccini said.

Revenue from the sale of this energy would help fund the third phase, which would develop energy efficient homes, businesses, a hotel and a movie theater on the site — all of which will produce the same amount of energy they consume. Puccini said most of the solar panels would then be placed on the roofs of the structures to continue generating power that will shift off site and be sold in a grid through Duke Energy.

SunRay Park is estimating it will cost $105 million over the first five years. The project will produce more than $120 million in county and St. Petersburg tax revenue, according to the proposal.

Also vying for the development contract is Meridian Realty Capital, a limited liability company created in May in Cincinnati. Meridian chief executive officer Matt Daniels also bid on developing Toytown in 2008. He he submitted an $870 million proposal through his Bear Creek Capital Development firm to build homes, offices and retail space on the site. The county actually approved the plan, but Daniels pulled out in 2011 when he could not secure retail tenants during the recession, according to Meridian general council Chris Wiest. In 2014 Daniels was found not guilty in federal court on 23 criminal charges of bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud relating to a large mixed-use project in Ohio, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Prosecutors alleged Daniels funneled proceeds from the mixed-use project to other Bear Creek developments, misused a $96 million construction loan and lied to cover up his actions, the Courier reported.

Wiest said Tuesday the case was "a complete farce" and that Daniels was the victim of a scheme by his business partners. Wiest said the partners fabricated claims of fraud against Daniels to escape responsibility for a defaulted bank loan.

Meridian's proposal for Toytown includes building 1,500 residential units alongside up to 2 million square feet of corporate office space with a hotel and restaurants and a recreation facility. The rec center would host five lighted softball and baseball fields, up to six tennis courts, a skate park, playground, water park and connections to the Pinellas Trail and Blue Heron Lake.

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The project is estimated to generate $29 million in tax revenue for the county along with 12,225 permanent jobs, according to the proposal.

"We designed it as what is going to generate the most tax revenue for the county," Wiest said. "We think it's a good proposal, a smart proposal and most importantly a proposal we think we can get done."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this story. Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or 727-445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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