More Beach Parking No Cause for Celebration
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER – One hundred more public parking spaces will be added on Clearwater Beach courtesy of an agreement approved by the City Council at its December 18th meeting.
But despite satisfying what is sometimes an overwhelming demand for beach parking, no one was celebrating. The agreement was an outcome of yet another delay in construction plans for the Kiran Grand resort at the northern gateway to Beach Walk.
Originally approved in 2004 as a 350-room hotel plus 75 condominiums when it was owned by hotelier Tony Markopoulos, several events have conspired to delay the project, including a change of ownership to a company headed by Dr. Kiran Patel. More recently, a weak market for condominiums caused Patel's group to redesign the facility with 450 rooms, 250 of them traditional hotel units and 200 time share units.
Patel's group came to the Council on December 18th seeking a 3-year extension to the deadline specified in its Development Agreement for beginning vertical construction on the facility, citing their inability to secure construction financing because of the tight financial markets.
But Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard observed that this latest delay was attributable to more than just the economy, it was due to Patel's inexperience as a developer. “I wish we had a different partner in this,” Hibbard said of Patel, “but Related has the background and experience to do it right.” He was referring to Miami-based Related Group, whom Patel had recently brought on board as a partner and to secure financing.
Eric Fordin, a Vice President of the Related Group, described his company's involvement in the Kiran Grand project. He called obtaining financing for the project “a massive undertaking.” Fordin said that despite the reputation of his company “the banks are not ready to lend yet. We're hoping maybe second or third quarter that will come around, but I wish I could give you a clearer picture as to when that would be.”
“There's no way to get us out of this project unless we sold the land,” Fordin responded to Councilmember Paul Gibson's questioning of Related's commitment. He added that the land is not for sale.
Despite their individual reservations about the project, the Council voted 4-1 to approve the 3-year extension largely because the project's 250 density pool units would disappear if they did not. “I will hold my nose and vote for it,” said Carlen Petersen, who had opposed the project both as a member of the city's Community Development board and City Council. Councilmember Paul Gibson, who favored only a 2-year extension, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Later in the meeting, the Council turned the Kiran Grand lemon into a sip of lemonade, approving 100 additional public parking spaces on Patel's vacant land and bringing the total to 203. The city will pay for improvements to the lot, including paving, totaling no more than $150-thousand. Until the city recovers the cost of those improvements, Patel will forgo the monthly rent of $120 per space. Monthly revenues were estimated at $280 per space.
The site improvements and 100-space expansion are targeted for completion by March 2009, hopefully in time for spring break.
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