DADE CITY — The former long-time home of an auto dealership is about to become an event and entertainment center, featuring a bar and food truck garden, on the northern strip of downtown Dade City.
Realtor and investor Larry Guilford is purchasing the former home of Pasco Motors on the west side of Seventh Street with plans to turn the historic brick building into Highlands, a three-venue event center.
The building has been vacant since 2013. Guilford detailed his plans last week during Greater Dade City’s initial Discover Dade City business symposium at Pasco-Hernando State College.
“I always loved the building,’’ Guilford said. “I just thought it had a lot of possibilities.’’
It will feature two separate 5,000-square-foot spaces — one for weddings, parties and similar events, and an entertainment area operating with food trucks and serving alcohol. The two spaces will hold up to 300 people each. A third, smaller spot for gatherings of up to 100 also will be part of the center, as will a 1,200-square-foot commercial kitchen.
The kitchen will be run by Melanie Armstrong, owner of Savory Roots Catering, who will operate her business from there and provide catering for the special events.
“We’re all interested in keeping the historical character of the building. Inside there’s exposed brick and an arched ceiling. It’s going to be beautiful,’’ said Armstrong. “It’s going to be a great asset for the city and for the downtown.’’
City officials mirrored her enthusiasm, saying the Highlands will provide a boost to a downtown that has limited offerings in the evening.
“We’re just super excited to re-purpose that building,’’ said Mayor Camille Hernandez. “It fits in perfectly with what we wanted to do.’’
What the city wants to do is preserve its downtown charm, provide more reasons for people to visit and develop a farm-to-table experience tied to the area’s agricultural roots.
The real estate closing is set for February, Guilford said. He declined to share the purchase price, but said the property was listed for $835,000. His newly formed entity, 14313 Highlands LLC, bought the empty lot across the street to provide parking for 60 vehicles. That $200,000 purchase closed in August.
Guilford said he hoped to be operating the entertainment area within four months and be booking special events by the fall. He estimated the renovations and purchase price will represent a $2 million investment in downtown.
The Pasco Property Appraiser’s Office web site lists the building’s construction as 1950, but residents and previous press accounts indicate the auto dealership began there in the 1920s.
The event center is taking its name from Highlands Motor Co., the auto dealership operated on the site by John Burks. He later sold it to Jim Huckabay, one of his employees who had started working there as a teenager.
It operated as Huckabee Chevrolet and later, under different ownership, as Pasco Motors, which relocated six years ago to U.S. 301 as Jim Browne Chevrolet Buick GMC after a change in management.
The Highlands name, used by multiple businesses at various times, reflected a decision by the local board of trade — the precursor to the Chamber of Commerce — to promote Dade City and Pasco County as “the Highlands of Florida’’ in the era around World War I, said William Dayton, a Dade City attorney and historian.
The city pursued a brownfield designation for the former auto dealership site. A federal Environmental Protection Agency grant to clean up the petroleum contamination, administered by Pasco County, helped pave the way for property’s planned redevelopment.
Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.