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.

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