Monday, November 15, 2004


$70 million project might get final approval Dec. 13

Staff Writer
St. Augustine Record

While business owners in the vicinity of the San Sebastian development want it, they said Tuesday it's difficult to believe it will come to fruition.

"I'm not going to believe it until they break ground," said Alan Gerth, owner of Avenue Books on King Street. "My landlord has been basing my rent for years on the fact the San Sebastian project was coming, but it never happened."

The $70-million project consists of 106 condominiums, 85 hotel rooms, a 65-slip marina and river walk along the San Sebastian River and a 10,000-square-foot spa. It needs the final approval from the City Commission on Dec. 13 to begin construction.

Monday, it got its initial approval from the City Commission on the first reading of the proposal.

The development will be built on 13 vacant acres at King and Lorida streets and along the San Sebastian River.

It has been put on hold for various reasons for at least the past decade, including City Commissioners debating with the former developer of the property, said Tim Burchfield, city chief administrative officer.

"The commission finally got tired of going back and forth with the developer and they reopened bids on the property," Burchfield said.

The city purchased the property more than 15 years ago and envisioned it as the western gateway to downtown St. Augustine.

Rich Newton and Matt Merritt, of San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, bought the property for $3.6 million in late May.

Merritt believes the project could be the grand western entrance to the city, with Lorida and King streets planned to become a pedestrian-friendly landscaped area with shops.

Charles Cox, vice president of San Sebastian Winery, on King Street, said the development will give the area a face lift.

"I think it will be a vast improvement to this side of St. Augustine and it will bring business to King Street," he said.

The project also will bring in about 250 to 300 jobs, Merritt said, with employees needed for restaurants, shops, the marina and the hotel.

With the total build-out value of $60 million for the project, Burchfield estimates the development will bring in $396,000 in tax revenue annually for the city.

Parking will be another benefit from the development, with a parking garage underneath the condominiums. There will be 370 parking spaces open to the public.

Kari Keating, vice president of St. Augustine and St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has not done an economic analysis of the project, but it has been concerned the development would not supply parking to the public.

"It's been on the books for so long, eventually we were hoping something would come of it," she said. "We are very happy to see parking is part of the project."

The city will pay for a traffic light to be placed at Malaga Street and King Street with a turning lane off King Street into the development, Burchfield said. He said the city will be reimbursed by the Department of Transportation.

Merritt hopes to begin construction of the marina in either December or January, and predicts it will take about 120 days to build. From there, construction of the rest of the project will begin and Merritt expects it to be completed in about 15 months.

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