Proposal could preserve land on Tampa Bay

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer

Published Friday, May 22, 2009

TAMPA — Developers this week presented a proposal to Bank of America to buy 160 acres of prime waterfront property in south Tampa.

DeBartolo Development and Christian Tyler Properties say if the deal goes through, they will give the Trust for Public Land an option to buy and preserve the piece of the old Georgetown Apartments parcel that fronts Tampa Bay.

The portion that fronts West Shore Boulevard just north of Gandy Boulevard would be redeveloped.

Developers bought the land in 2005 for $125 million with plans to replace the 600 apartments with more than 1,200 homes. The property is now in foreclosure, and Bank of America accepted bids from potential buyers this week.

Nicole Nastacie, a spokeswoman for the bank, wouldn't say how many proposals the bank received.

"I would hope they'd look favorably on the bid that will ultimately provide some benefit to the community," said Greg Chelius, director of the Trust for Public Land's Florida operations. The bank, he said, should feel a particular obligation because it received federal stimulus money.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio submitted a letter of support to Bank of America, saying she's "enthusiastic about the unique opportunity we have with the Georgetown site to permanently preserve waterfront land for conservation and public enjoyment."

Chelius said his organization would probably only exercise the option to buy from the new owners if Hillsborough County's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program agrees in turn to eventually buy at least a portion of it from them.

That requires the approval of the ELAPP committee and then the Hillsborough County Commission.

Since its creation in 1987, ELAPP, funded by county property taxes, has made possible the purchase of 44,700 acres of beaches, woods, swamps and grasslands throughout Hillsborough County.

The site is being evaluated to determine if it meets the criteria for an ELAPP purchase.

If it does meet those requirements, it will be part of a public hearing in the fall on possible ELAPP purchases throughout the county.

After that, a selection committee will evaluate and rank the purchases.

"The site as it sits right now more than likely would not qualify for ELAPP without a funded restoration plan," said Jan Smith, chairwoman of the ELAPP committee. "The part they want ELAPP to purchase is generally considered dredge and fill. It's not a piece of property that was ever in a natural state like some other properties we've bought."

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