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Developers eye another Pinellas golf course, this time in Clearwater

A proposal to build an industrial park on property now occupied by The Landings Golf Club will go before the City Council on Thursday.

CLEARWATER — A Tampa developer wants to convert most of The Landings Golf Club’s 77 acres of open space bordering the Clearwater Airpark into a light manufacturing complex.

The City Council is expected to vote Thursday on whether to begin negotiations with Harrod Properties to lease the city-owned property. The deal would require voter approval in November as the City Charter requires the lease of public open space to go to referendum.

The proposal is at least the fourth instance in recent years of a developer seeking to build on a golf course in densely populated Pinellas County, where available land for housing and commercial space is becoming more scarce.

In one of those cases, a developer’s pending application to build 273 homes on the former Tides Golf Course in Seminole has drawn concerns from neighbors and Pinellas County planning staff about the environmental impacts. The course borders a 187-acre nature preserve.

But with The Landings site already located in an industrial area, Clearwater officials praised the proposal for its potential. They said it could boost Pinellas County’s industrial sector, which is held back by a lack of available land and outdated existing stock that is expensive to redevelop.

The North Pinellas market has about 13.8 million square feet of industrial space, according to a Pinellas County market assessment completed in December. County consultants projected a demand for 10 million more square feet for industrial development over the next 20 years.

"We’re competing with these other communities that still have cows in pastures and they are able to put up similar facilities for far less expense,” said Denise Sanderson, the city’s economic development and housing director. “We want to remain competitive and attract the kinds of businesses our residents need, these quality jobs where you can grow and advance your skills.”

The proposal for a $131 million development at The Landings does not specify any secured tenants, but it would be built to accommodate medical manufacturing and other light industry as opposed to heavier production like automotive, according to Harrod senior partner Rob Webster.

The golf course’s current operator pays the city $1,000 a month in rent, according to Sanderson. A city staff analysis estimates a light industrial complex could generate $11 million in net benefits over 10 years. The analysis estimates the complex could create 3,783 direct and spinoff jobs at average salaries of $47,076. And its location just west of Hercules Avenue would put the manufacturing park in the city’s existing industrial section, not bordering sensitive lands or heavy residential areas.

“The physical location of it is the best place for this type of development, and light industrial development in 2020 is so much different than the light industrial area that was developed 60 years ago,” council member Hoyt Hamilton said during a Monday work session.

Council member Kathleen Beckman raised concerns about the loss of green space with the project.

She first heard of the proposal when city staff briefed her on Friday, which is why she said she wants the council to take more than a week before voting on how to proceed.

“If we’re going to put this up for lease, we have to understand the context of what we’re losing,” Beckman said Tuesday. “I am pro higher paying jobs. I want to see our economy grow. I know we need to build up our coffers, especially in light of COVID-19. But I want to do it in an informed and very transparent way that respects our voters and allows them to digest the information before they cast their vote.”

According to Parks and Recreation Director Art Kader, the city has 14.6 acres of park land per 1,000 residents, well above the standard of 4 acres per 1,000 residents. That calculation includes 643 acres of ball fields and golf courses, 52 acres of open space parks, 754 acres of environmental parks and preserves, 162 acres of neighborhood parks and 96 acres of recreation and aquatic centers.

If council members move forward on negotiations with Harrod Properties, they would likely vote next month on the ballot language for the referendum. Voters would be asked in November to decide whether to approve a 65-year lease with three 10-year renewal options. The agreement would keep 12 of the 77 acres as a golf course.

Harrod Properties owns and manages 3.5 million square feet of property in Tampa Bay, specializing in industrial, medical manufacturing and office products, Webster said. The firm is in the final stages of constructing three other industrial complexes in Pasco County, Largo and Lakewood Ranch.

“We’ve been looking for north of 15 years now for good, quality land to develop in Clearwater,” Webster told the council on Monday. “There’s a lack of quality, Class A industrial manufacturing buildings in the city.”

Sanderson said The Landings property was identified in 2011 as a potential site for light industrial development. She said by adding to the industrial sector, the project would also help the city’s goal of shifting the tax burden from residents to commercial property owners.

Today, about 68 percent of property taxes collected in the city are paid by residents as opposed to commercial property owners.

“We’d prefer to see a flip of that to some extent,” Sanderson said.