This article by Keyonna Summers ran in the Tampa Bay Times on September 3, 2014.
The newest owners of the long-shuttered Fenway Hotel plan to pour $14.1 million into a project that would not only restore the historic icon to its 1920s heyday, but also add townhomes and conference space along the city’s waterfront.
On Wednesday, three months after the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America bought the 5.2-acre waterfront parcel at 453 Edgewater Drive and paid off code enforcement liens that had accrued over the years, the group unveiled its proposal for transforming the property into its new international headquarters.
Plans call for a nearly $5 million rehabilitation of the deteriorating Fenway into a 102-room hotel for Taoist members who would come from around the world for festivals, religious celebrations, conferences and formal instruction in the centuries-old form of slow-moving, Chinese-influenced exercise. The main building would include 3,000 square feet of meeting space available for public use, a 7,100-square-foot atrium, a cafeteria and 114 parking spots.
In a second phase, the Tallahassee-based health and wellness group would replace three buildings on the property’s east end with 27 two-story townhomes above rear two-car garages, a large retention pond, a garden area and nine parking spaces. The high-end units, for sale to the general public at market rate, would be accessible only via internal roads and share overflow parking with the hotel (whose visitors are expected to mainly be tourists who will use public transportation to visit area attractions).
Developers estimate the combined hotel-residential components — dubbed the Centre — would generate fewer than 1,000 daily car trips along Edgewater, which is designed to handle 15,400 vehicles a day.
The proposal submitted to the city Wednesday, along with preliminary layout drawings and a request to start negotiating a development agreement, included an economic impact study that officials hoped would allay fears about the nonprofit’s tax-generating status.
Orlando economic consulting firm Fishkind & Associates estimates the project would create 84 permanent jobs and contribute more than $2.5 million annually to the local economy, in addition to the $22 million and 48 temporary jobs generated over about three years of construction.
The Taoist society counts 42,000 members spread across 26 countries — 6,000 of them in the United States and 1,400 in the Tampa Bay area. Economic forecasters expect 11,500 guests to visit Dunedin per year.
Group officials said the proposal, developed with input from several local consultants, ensures the best interests of the society, the city and neighbors.
“We are extremely pleased with our proposal,” retired Pinellas County middle school principal and Taoist group president Pegoty Lopez Packman said in a statement, “and believe the community will embrace seeing the Fenway come alive again.”
But first, the proposal will have to overcome several hurdles.
Those include a monthslong series of meetings with neighbors and city advisory committees, and securing approvals from city staff and commissioners. City Manager Rob DiSpirito expects to kick off the process this month by asking commissioners’ permission to start negotiating a development agreement, which would let elected leaders decide whether the project meets Dunedin’s historic guidelines for the property.
DiSpirito said Wednesday that he hadn’t had a chance to examine the proposal. But he recalled the history of the property — vacant since 2002 — as a once-thriving country club for the rich and famous, as a two-time college campus, and as a longtime eyesore after the bank pursued foreclosure in 2009.
“There’s been plenty of starts and stops,” DiSpirito said, “so we’re very much looking forward to . . . negotiating the best deal.”