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Pasco commissioner Mariano buys vacant Gulf-front land for development

HUDSON – Jack Mariano, a Pasco County commissioner and part-time insurance salesman, has a new line on his resume: Developer.

Mariano paid $900,000 in a cash deal for an undeveloped 8.37-acre parcel fronting the Gulf of Mexico in a transaction that closed March 8. The land adjoins the Gulf Islands Beach and Tennis Resort on Sea Ranch Drive and is zoned for a multi-family high-rise.

Mariano said the land will be developed as a condominium complex of a five-story building atop a two-story parking deck. It could contain between 50 and 88 units depending on the final design.

The property will be owned by a newly formed company called Sunset Phase 4, comprised of Mariano and his investors: Rod Kielty of R.J. Kielty Plumbing; physician Krishna Ravi; William Woodward, president of Coastal Aluminium; engineer Elie Araj, president of Applied Sciences Consulting, and Thomas Giroud.

Mariano reported his net worth at $174,000, according to his most recent financial disclosure filing, and listed an income of $115,306 from his commission salary and his work at Barrett Harding Insurance. He said he put up the $45,000 down payment and will retain 51 percent ownership of the new company.

His new venture already created a conflict of interest. Wednesday morning, Mariano abstained from voting to select an engineering firm for a county drainage project because the man at the podium seeking the work was Araj.

A potential future conflict could involve the county's long-term plan for dredging residential canals in west Pasco. Water quality testing for the Sea Ranch lagoon near Mariano's property is one of the projects on the list.

"This is phase four; it's not like I'm starting a brand new project,'' said Mariano. "Hopefully, my constituents will like the idea.''

On Tuesday, a Dumpster and backhoe sat on the property. Mariano said workers removed only invasive species vegetation and that the land has to be cleared to do a proper survey.

The land had been entangled in a lengthy circuit court case in Miami-Dade County. The property was owned by a company called DBKN of Coconut Grove, which borrowed $990,000 from two dozen lenders to acquire the site in 2003. The 11th Circuit Court appointed a receiver four years later to sort out the troubled finances of DBKN's affiliate, Berman Mortgage Corp., which had borrowed $192 million against 40 different real estate projects and properties.

The court allowed Coastal Real Estate Associates to market the land and the asking priced bounced from $3.5 million to $1.99 million between 2013 and 2017. A $2 million sale in 2015 fell apart when the potential buyer backed out, according to court records.

The property was listed at $2.229 million in August 2017, and Mariano submitted a sales contract for $900,000 in January. Mariano said he was familiar with the site and knew the real estate agent, Claudia Traywick. He said he previously had pitched the property's attributes to interested developers, pointing to road upgrades on Clark Street and Old Dixie Highway and the proximity to the county-owned SunWest Park in Aripeka.

The court approved the sale in February with Judge Pedro Echarte's order noting "the sale price reflected in the (contract from Mariano) is more than what is likely to be realized at a public auction of the vacant land.''

The Pasco Property Appraiser's Office lists the land's taxable value at $433,154.

"It's a great piece of property, and I can't wait for something to be put out there,'' said Traywick, the real estate agent.

The land is within the gated Gulf Islands Beach and Tennis Resort community, but would be independent of the three existing condominium buildings totaling 324 units, according to the real estate listing. The existing condo towers feature units as small as 838 square feet, but Mariano said his project will have some units of 2,000 square feet.

The development of Gulf Islands had its own checkered past with the buildings sitting largely unfinished from 1985 to 1993 amid the savings and loan meltdown of the 1980s. For years, local residents derisively referred to the unfinished buildings as Hudson's white elephant.

The federal government sold the property in 1993 for $7.2 million to Gulf Island Resort Limited Partners, which spent millions over the next six months to renovate and finish the complex before selling the individual units.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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