Saturday, January 17, 2004


Plan wins city's OK

San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach emerged as the top candidate to build St. Augustine's long-awaited riverside development.

The St. Augustine City Commission heard proposals Friday from three development teams interested in building the Sebastian Inland Harbor project, which has been in the works since the 1980s. Commissioners scored each group, and then directed staff to negotiate a contract with the Partners.

"We're absolutely ecstatic about the city's decision," said Matt Merritt with the Partners.

The downtown project's design reflects feedback from the community and city officials, he said. The development team is excited about moving forward, he said.

The planned buildout calls for a first phase that takes 21 months, and a second phase that takes 18 months. There would be about three months of initial site work.

A closing date could occur within 90-to-120 days from a purchase agreement, according to city staff.

The architectural style would follow a Spanish theme. And the total buildout value would be $64.9 million as proposed, according to city staff.

The proposed design includes an amphitheater, 110-room hotel with a 500-seat conference room, 85-slip marina, 130 condos and retail space. The details will be discussed in the contract negotiations.

The proposal calls for open space and areas for the public to walk around, he said.

"Our whole concept is to create a pedestrian-friendly place where people will park their cars, and walk around and really enjoy themselves," he said.

Mayor George Gardner said that all the designs had a higher density than he wanted, but the city needs to compromise and move forward.

Primarily, he said he feels comfortable with the members of the chosen development team.

The other teams that bid for the project were Old City Investment Group of Palm Coast and Premier Hospitality of Charleston, S.C.

Old City wanted to build a 150-room hotel with a 400- to 600-seat conference room, and 175 condos. Premier Hospitality proposed a hotel with more than 200 rooms and up to 600 conference room seats.

Both companies asked to purchase the property for $4.5 million.

The Partners have offered $3.6 million, but that doesn't include a parking area that would sit on a little more than an acre. The property is about 15 acres.

Another developer, Doug Randall, was not considered by the commission. He had previously submitted a proposal and was ranked second to Vestcor in an earlier development negotiation. Vestcor pulled out in 2001 after Sept. 11 threw the nation into economic uncertainty.

Randall didn't resubmit when the city asked for proposals again because he said he already had a legitimate proposal on the table. He said he will sue the city and argues he won the first bid because Vestcor backed out.

He said he waited until now to serve the city with notice because he wanted to see what developers would come forward to build the project.

Assistant City Manager Jack Cubbedge, responding to questions from commissioners, said it has always been staff's position that second-place bidders have no legitimate claim if the first-place bidder leaves.

Commissioner Don Crichlow said it's time to move forward, and build the project right.

"We need to get a successful job done here, and I think that means compromise as we go through the process," Crichlow said.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Developers to make latest pitch to city

Commission to Hold Workshop to Hear Presentations on Sebastian Inland Harbor Project

by Michael Reed, St. Augustine Record

Potential developers of the Sebastian Inland Harbor project submitted proposals in December that were accepted Monday by the St. Augustine City Commission.The commission will hold a special workshop later this week or early next week -- City Manager Bill Harriss has to coordinate the schedules of the developers -- to hear presentations on the three proposals the city received. The developers will speak for 15 minutes, and the commissioners will rank the proposals.

"This is an exciting time for us to proceed forward with this project," Harriss said.

The city wants a hotel, marina, commercial and residential space built at the harbor, which is next to the San Sebastian Winery.

The only developer to speak at the meeting was Doug Warner with Premier Hospitality Group of Charleston, S.C. He said the company submitted a non-conforming proposal, and he asked the commission to entertain options to use adjacent city property to build a larger development.

Old City Investment Group made a proposal for a 150-room, $14 million hotel, $800,000 in retail space, 175 condominiums worth $40 million, a $4 million parking garage, a $500,000 restaurant and a $3.5 million marina with 85 slips. The company offered $4.5 million for the property.

San Sebastian Harbor Partners proposed a 110-room hotel, 130 condos, 300,000 square feet of retail space, an 85-slip marina, an outdoor amphitheater and a river walk. The company offered $3.6 million for the property.

Another developer, Doug Randall, was ranked second after the city asked for proposals in 2000. Vestcor won the contract but later pulled out.

Randall said he should have been next in line. He said he didn't submit a new bid because he has a legitimate proposal already on the table.

Harriss asked the commission to consider the services of an independent architect that would act as a consultant with knowledge of large, multi-use downtown projects. He said he had a couple of people in Jacksonville in mind.

"It's a very cheap consultant for a short period of time, and this is a very important project," Harriss said. "We can't afford to make a mistake on it."

Mayor George Gardner said the city has been holding public hearings, getting a consensus from the public and moving forward with projects such as the harbor and a downtown traffic and parking plan. If the city continues forward, people will see shovels turning.

"We have a solid game plan, and we're following it," Gardner said.

The website for San Sebastian Partners is


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