OLDSMAR — After the City Council rejected a developer's request for an extension on a proposal to build a 50 town homes on four city-owned acres near the library last summer, Mayor Doug Bevis said the property was too valuable to support a project that wasn't in line with city's downtown vision.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen now, but I do know that's a valuable piece of property, and because the city owns it, we have a say in what goes there," Bevis said in June 2018. "Something will be built there, eventually, and we want to make sure it's the right project for the city and the downtown district."
That something could be coming soon, as the council agreed last month to enter a memorandum of understanding with Tampa-based firm Dfmar for a mixed-use development to be built on seven acres at the southeast corner of St. Petersburg Drive E and State Street E.
The city has six months to negotiate with Dfmar, City Manager Al Braithwaite said recently. "All of the specifics of the development will still have to be approved by the council."
Details of the project remain scant. According to a letter from Dfmar managing member Francisco Semsch, the firm expects to "transform this section of State Street and St. Petersburg Drive into the beginning of a dynamic urban district" with a project that would include retail, offices, multifamily residences, a parking deck, plazas, internal streets and pedestrian circulation.
Mayor Eric Seidel expressed disappointment over the fact that the agreement contained no conceptual plans, site specifics or architectural renderings of the project.
"I do think that's a mistake," said Seidel, who automatically became mayor on March 12 after running unopposed. "You have an excellent reputation, but I'm not in the habit of approving something that locks up an asset without seeing it."
Semsch, a Tampa architect who has worked on several major projects in Oldsmar over the years, including the Galleria, said details of the concept would be revealed after the city approved the memorandum of understanding. "After it is approved, we will make it public," he said.
The council approved the deal 5-0.
Afterwards, Seidel elaborated on the project and where it fits in the downtown redevelopment plans.
"I'm guardedly optimistic," he said. "We all know Francisco's work and reputation. He has a reputation for doing outstanding work."
He said based on the preliminary details in the agreement, as well as positive words from city officials who have seen the concept, he believes the project could be the linchpin of the downtown redevelopment.
''Regardless of what happens to this property, the focus will be the property next to City Hall and making meaningful progress on the downtown redevelopment,'' Seidel said. "I will have more tunnel vision in the first year than most because I believe that's what it takes to get things done."