|By Aaron Sharockman, St. Petersburg
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 18, 2006 - CLEARWATER -- The developer of a planned Clearwater Beach Hyatt is asking for additional concessions from the city, saying more changes are needed before work can begin.
The changes, among other things, could delay the resort's construction until the end of the year and double the number of days condominium-hotel unit owners could use their rooms.
That, in turn, would reduce the total number of room nights available to tourists who typically spend more money and pay more local taxes during their stay.
Without the alterations the project could be dead, developer Neil Rauenhorst of Tampa is telling city officials. Rauenhorst did not return a message Tuesday. City leaders, meanwhile, are still trying to understand the ramifications of the change, which could also affect its Beach Walk improvements along S Gulfview Boulevard.
The situation is all part of a delicate dance between a city desperate for 400 public parking spaces that the resort would provide and developers who need to justify the $18.5-million they have already committed to the project.
On Tuesday at a City Council work session, city planners supported the changes, and at least two council members, John Doran and Hoyt Hamilton, appeared ready to agree. A formal vote is scheduled Thursday.
Planners later made the same presentation to the city's Community Development Board. City staffers used complex language at times to explain amendments to a previously ratified development agreement. At least two board members did not fully understand what the proposed changes were.
Reading from a city-written summary of the changes, Clearwater planner Wayne Wells said one of the amendments would alter "the scope of the project to account for projected vacancy rates and enable the hotel unit owners greater flexibility to use the hotel units when the hotel units might otherwise be vacant."
The change would lead "to greater use of the hotel amenities and facilities," Wells finished.
What that means is that owners of the 250 condominium-hotel rooms could use their units for 60 days, double the previous agreement. Board members Kathy Milam and J.B. Johnson said they did not know the changes included that provision.
Unit owners could not stay more than 30 straight nights, but Wells said owners could "move out" for one day between a 60-day, or two-month stay. That means they could stay at the Hyatt through all of February and March for instance, which are prime tourist months.
Hoyt Hamilton said he believed unit owners would not turn away sure profits during prime tourist months to use the rooms themselves. The condo-hotel concept awards unit owners a percentage of the daily room rate when the unit is rented out.
The Hyatt development morphed into a condominium-hotel last year, since it is easier to finance the construction of a resort where rooms are sold to private owners.
As a result, 16.4 percent of annual room nights could be gobbled up by unit owners if the changes are adopted.
The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce, though supporting the altered agreement, cautioned the city as to the potential ramifications.
This agreement is "eroding what was a hotel project to a condominium-hotel," said David Little, the beach chamber's redevelopment chairman. The chamber said 2,000 hotel rooms have already disappeared from the beach and more may as well.
Another amendment, according to city language, would modify "the construction start date so that it is the same as the outside date for commencement of construction under the vacating ordinances for Third Street and S Gulfview Boulevard."
That change would delay construction nine months until Dec. 31, 2006.
Wells said the city's text was primarily taken from the developer's application for the changes. He acknowledged "you might have to read between the lines, a bit," and said at least one other board member questioned him about the language before the meeting began.
As part of the project's original 2001 development agreement, the city agreed to allow 250 hotel rooms on about a 2-acre S Gulfview Boulevard property where 65 hotel rooms would normally be permitted.
The city then amended that agreement in 2004, with a different developer, to allow 250 hotel room and 18 traditional condominiums.
Now, Little said the project's third developer, Rauenhorst, is asking for even more. Mayor Frank Hibbard sees his point.
"I'm pretty much at the end of my rope on this particular project," said Hibbard, who added he has not decided if he will support the latest amendments.
"What are we getting?" he asked city staffers. "I don't see what we're getting."
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