Deal may bring new park

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Monday, October 5, 2009

TAMPA — Ed Kobel, president of the DeBartolo Group, remembers visiting the Georgetown Apartments property seven years ago with the company chairman.

"This is the best piece of real estate on the west coast of Florida," Eddie DeBartolo told Kobel.

The DeBartolo Group is now the proud owner of the South Tampa property, after closing on a $30.5 million purchase from Bank of America on Friday.

The wait clearly paid off.

DeBartolo attempted to buy Georgetown after that visit seven years ago, but was outbid by a Fort Lauderdale group, which paid $125 million for it in 2005. It fell into foreclosure last year.

And the deal could get even sweeter for DeBartolo.

The company has a contract with the Trust for Public Land to buy the waterfront half of the 160-acre parcel.

The trust will exercise the option only if Hillsborough County agrees to buy it from the agency through the taxpayer-funded Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP). The county wants to turn it into a public park.

Last month, a citizens panel that recommends properties Hillsborough should buy with ELAPP dollars put Georgetown on its wish list. The Hillsborough County Commission has the final say.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Hillsborough Commissioner Rose Ferlita were early champions of the public park concept.

"It would be of a passive nature with boat ramps and nature trails," Iorio said. "It's just a beautiful piece of land, and most importantly it's in the urban core where there's very little undeveloped land, particularly waterfront."

An appraisal will determine the price tag for the park piece, but Kobel predicted it would be more than half of what DeBartolo paid for the entire property because the waterfront portion is the most valuable. It is zoned for the most dense development, which also drives up the value.

The Fort Lauderdale group had planned to replace the 600-unit apartment complex with 1,200 homes. But the project collapsed with the real estate market.

"The recession is all negative except for these very rare real estate opportunities where you can get something at a much reduced price, and then you can get the public benefit," Iorio said.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe visited Georgetown Monday morning with Kobel.

"This is a very important piece of property," Sharpe said. "I hope ELAPP will be able to purchase the land and make the commitment to the city and county that there will be public land for recreation and keep some development off of West Shore."

ELAPP was created by voters in 1987 and renewed three years later. It has preserved 44,800 acres. Last year, voters overwhelmingly voted to extend it again to purchase up to $200 million worth of more land.

Demolition of the now boarded-up Georgetown Apartments buildings will start in the next few months, Kobel said. The company will develop a master plan for the land after the county decides whether to buy the waterfront portion.

"What we told the mayor and the county is, 'Look, we'd love to be good corporate citizens,' " Kobel said. "If that's something that materializes, great. If not, we'll go in a different direction."

The land already is zoned for up to 2,500 units and everything from a marina to a shopping center.

"We're going to sit back and really take some time to figure out what's the best ultimate use for the property," Kobel said. "We're not in a hurry."

Janet Zink can be reached at or (813) 226-3401.