ST. PETE BEACH — A proposed 217-room, 12-story hotel cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when the city's Planning Board approved a conditional use permit for the $55 million project.
Meanwhile, opposition is already building among factions that have been blocking hotel redevelopment for the past decade.
The next obstacle for the Sugar Sands at Tradewinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach will be getting City Commission approval when it meets on Oct. 11.
"I feel really good the Planning Board approved us," TradeWinds CEO Tim Bogott said, adding the site plan is virtually complete and the project could be ready for final permitting "within a matter of weeks."
If everything goes as planned, the TradeWinds Resort-owned hotel, located at 5750 Gulf Blvd. on the 3-acre site of the former 200-room Coral Reef Hotel, could be open for business by mid 2018.
The estimated $55 million Sugar Sands project also will include an 810-space multistory parking garage, a timeshare sales center, a spa and fitness center, a marketing office, a bar and a reception area.
"We feel it's important to move forward. It's been long enough," Bogott told the planning board Tuesday. "If we do not allow new development we will continue to see existing businesses die and leave the community."
Bogott made it clear that the Sugar Sands would be the first phase of a massive redevelopment of the 30-acre, 30-plus-year-old TradeWinds complex.
Bogott said he hopes the project will not become a new legal target for residents who have fought the city for a decade over redevelopment. The city has spent about $2 million on the legal battle.
"They are asking you to buy the farm again," warned Tim Weber, an attorney representing resident Jim Anderson, who has repeatedly sued the city over development regulations.
Weber stressed that the city has yet to complete the studies required in a compromise settlement with Anderson.
"Why is there a rush to approve, approve, approve before information is available?" he asked.
Both Anderson and resident Bill Pyle argued the city should not approve any projects until its sewer system and other aging infrastructure is repaired and expanded.
"The sewer system has zero capacity going up Gulf Boulevard," Anderson said.
The Sugar Sands would add 217 rooms to the city's tourist inventory, overloading the city's current sewer system.
But Bogott's proposal to lead the city's hoteliers in a program that would pay for fixing and expanding the city's aging sewer system along hotel row persuaded the board to approve the project.
As a guarantee, the board's conditional use approval also was predicated on additional sewer capacity being available before an occupancy permit would be issued, and a bond that would cover completion of both the hotel and sewer project.
"I am very hopeful about what is being proposed here," said planning board member Jack Ohlhaber, adding that he wanted to see in writing the promises Bogott is making.
"This is a process. I feel very comfortable with the conditions (placed on the project)," said board member Michael Lehman.
The only board member voting against the project was Lynn Chaney, a former city commissioner and member of a group that fought tall buildings and large developments.