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New Port Richey approves Main Street Landing

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New Port Richey city council approves Main Street Landing project

Calling it the spark that is needed to launch New Port Richey's redevelopment, city council members voted 3-1 late Tuesday night to approve final plans for a development agreement that will make the multimillion-dollar Main Street Landing a reality. The Tuscan-themed project will add condos, townhomes, restaurants and shops to the downtown area along the Pithlachascotee River.

"I can hardly wait for it to come to fruition,'' said Council member Bob Langford. Council members Ginny Miller and Tom Finn also approved the plan. Mayor Dan Tipton voted no on the agreement, citing an increase in the incentive amount New Port Richey would pay developers Ken and Linda McGurn and Peter Altman to build the project. Council member Matthew McCaffery was absent from the meeting. The council's formal approval of the plan means the city will turn sell the last piece of land (a vacant lot of less than one acre) to the McGurns and Altman. The property will be sold for $115,000 and was the final parcel needed for the planned retail/residential complex on the riverfront. Per the approved agreement, New Port Richey will also pay about $1.2-million in incentives to the developers - an increase from the $950,000 initially proposed when the contract was first submitted to city staff April 30.

Ken McGurn said Tuesday night that the increase factors in the developers' up front costs and expenses incurred as the project is built over the next two and a half to three years. The contract also includes conceptual plans for Phase II of Main Street Landing - an additional retail/residential project to be built on the north side of Main Street. The area is now occupied by the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and a public boat ramp. Officials with Main Street Landing, LLP, which has a one-year option to redevelop the area per the agreement, said they want the ramp to stay.

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This should really be in Tampa metro, but

The brawn behind the blueprints

Credited with reviving Gainesville's lifeless downtown, the developer duo plans a complex expected to fatten New Port Richey's tax base.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer

Published June 6, 2004


GAINESVILLE - Inside the stately Hippodrome Theatre, the inauguration party was in full swing. Newly sworn-in Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan was lost in a swirl of hand-shaking and congratulatory hugs. In the midst of all the hoopla, developer Ken McGurn cut a path to the city's new leader.

He whispered in her ear, pointed to the door and asked if she would speak to a reporter, who was writing a story about McGurn and his wife. Hanrahan quickly excused herself from the crowd and walked over.

How would she describe the McGurns' contributions to Gainesville?

Before answering, Hanrahan held up a finger to ward off an approaching well-wisher.

"(They) have been our premiere downtown developers for 20 years," she said. "If not for their visions and their willingness to take chances, we'd be set back years."

Ask almost anyone in Gainesville - from property appraisers to environmental regulators - about the McGurns, and the response is the same:

Brave. Gutsy. Courageous. Words rarely used to depict developers.

Now, the McGurns are news in Pasco County. They're the brawn behind the proposed $30-million Main Street Landing waterfront development in New Port Richey, which civic leaders hope will prompt an economic rebirth for their city.

"We hope," said councilman Tom Finn, "it is the catalyst."

Reinventing Gainesville

Gainesville residents credit the McGurns with turning the city's downtown district from a ghost town into a thriving hub. Over two decades, they have invested more than $35-million on the college city's downtown.

Their latest effort is Union Street Station: a five-story, $15-million mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.

The project added condos and townhomes, shops, a steakhouse, trees and outside seating, and brought in chains like Starbucks, Quiznos and Hooters. Independent coffee and gift shops also were encouraged.

"They really have changed the mix," said Karen Slevin, director of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

The red-brick building is also the crownjewel of the couple's efforts in Gainesville and perhaps the best comparison to Main Street Landing - the multistory, mixed-use complex they plan for New Port Richey.

It would be the Pasco city's largest development project in decades.

Construction could start by late fall on a waterfront restaurant, Tuscan-themed townhomes and condos, plus a mix of retail shops at the southwest corner of the city's entrance.

"We hope to be in the ground in six months," Ken McGurn said Thursday. Demolition work is slated to start in the next 60 days on a three-acre site west of the Pithlachascotee River.

Gerald Paradise, New Port Richey's redevelopment director, anticipates the project could ultimately boost the city's tax base by an average of $300,000 annually.

Currently, Community Hospital contributes more than $235,000 a year as the city's largest taxpayer, but it is planning to move to suburban Trinity.

* * *

The McGurns didn't seek out New Port Richey. Former mayor and current Pasco County commissioner Peter Altman found them.

With long-held visions of a revitalized downtown, Altman sought out investors. By late 2003 he was working with an Orlando group, when he got a tip about the McGurns.

In December 2003, "I cold-called Ken," he said, catching the couple as they were Christmas shopping. By January, they were on board. Altman calls the McGurns the managing partners of the Main Street Landing project. Ken McGurn puts it differently: "I'm the boss."

Plans for Main Street Landing quickly outpaced that of St. Petersburg developer Grady Pridgen, who bought a small bait-and-boat shop east of the river last fall.

In April, Pridgen announced major plans to develop a $50-million mixed-use project there that he said would compliment Main Street Landing. He has yet to announce a starting date.

"But it's exciting that there's another interested party watching (Main Street Landing)," said Altman.

* * *

In Gainesville, residents say that to understand truly the impact of the McGurns on their downtown, you have go back about 25 years.

Despite the presence of the University of Florida blocks away, downtown was all but deserted. Government offices provided the only signs of life in the day and college nightclubs beckoned after hours.

"This was a sort of beat-up old place," said Ed Crapo, the current and longest serving property appraiser in Alachua County. "What was downtown was old, dilapidated, dying."

"Those who could afford to were fleeing," he said.

Crime rates were high; property values were low.

"There was a time when they were actually giving away buildings downtown if you'd pay the taxes," said Mark Sexton, president of Gainesville's downtown owners and tenants association. "They were that desperate."

Enter the McGurns.

Risky but lucrative

Born in Poplar Bluff, Mo., Ken McGurn moved to Florida at age 2. He grew up in Gainesville, Daytona Beach and later Tarpon Springs. He attended high school in Tarpon (where his father was the city manager), skipped the 11th grade and entered junior college at 16.

When he was 18, he enlisted in the Army. By age 22, he was a captain; during his nine-year military tenure, he served in Vietnam and Europe.

After the Army, McGurn returned to Gainesville and to the University of Florida - his father's alma matter.

He first met Linda Hoffmann in 1971 on a blind date. The couple married six months later.

Ken McGurn, now 58, was working on his master's degree in real estate and urban planning. (He later earned a doctorate at the university in the same field with minors in finance and economics).

Linda, now 52, was earning her UF bachelor's degree in accounting. (She later earned a law degree from the university.)

In between classes, the couple began making their money, one house at a time.

"We bought a trailer and a house here and there," Ken said. They lived in one, fixed the others up and rented them out.

Three years later, with loans and money borrowed from anyone who could help, "we had 35 houses (and) pretty soon they were worth something," said Ken McGurn.

Even their professors loaned them money. "I convinced them I was a nice guy," he said, smiling.

In 1978, he went to the bank and offered to buy a dilapidated building. The bank loaned him $50,000.

"There's always somebody willing to sell in real estate, he said. "I was willing to buy."

Land deals followed, and so did the McGurns' first major redevelopment project: an 84,000 square-foot building in east Gainesville in 1983. Before long, a pattern emerged. The couple invested in redevelopment projects and established a track record of success. Such ventures are inherently risky: old buildings often are abandoned, can pose environmental hazards and are in areas hard to revive.

Today the McGurns' efforts have resulted in several Gainesville apartment complexes, offices and the conversion of the old Gainesville Sun newspaper building into a thriving restaurant/retail hub called the Sun Center.

The couple, whose development firm - McGurn Investment Company - is in downtown Gainesville, also builds in Baton Rouge, the Houston area and in other Florida cities, including Port Orange, Daytona Beach and now New Port Richey.

"I built a reputation of having excellent credit," said Ken McGurn, who served as director of the National Home Builders Association from 1994 to 2003. "Now I can borrow as much as I need ... it's amazing what 25 years will do for you."

He has also ventured into other industries, including newspaper publishing and health care. McGurn is chairman of the board and an owner of Tampa-based Gold Standard Multimedia, a major medical software company whose roster of directors includes former UF president John Lombardi.

Adopting a town

The impetus behind the McGurns' efforts in Gainesville is somewhat emotional, said Linda McGurn because of their strong ties to the university.

Throughout the years one or the other has served as president, chairman or chairwoman of a host of local, county and state groups. They include roles as director of the University of Florida Foundation Board and directorships of both Florida Bank and Florida Bank of Alachua County.

They've also held leadership positions with the city's redevelopment agency and advisory board, the Alachua County Housing Finance Authority and a number of civic, volunteer and arts boards.

"I think we kind of adopted downtown Gainesville and it became personal," said Linda McGurn.

Union Street Station is a bold symbol of that.

Linda McGurn notes that Main Street Landing in New Port Richey will be different.

The two cities have different populations.

In Pasco, New Port Richey's residents include a fair share of retirees, snowbirds and renters. Gainesville's student population alone tops 40,000, plus professors, alums and residents. The themes for the communities also are different .

Brick buildings with a New Orleans feel characterize much of the McGurns' Gainesville redevelopment while a Mediterranean theme will dominate their work in New Port Richey.

"We have to work it into the Gloria Swanson, Hacienda Hotel feel," said Linda McGurn, referring to New Port Richey's historic connection to the silent-film era.

New Port Richey is actually ahead of Gainesville in a number of its planning efforts, she added.

"I saw the river and the trees and how they narrowed the streets from four to two lanes, which Gainesville is getting ready to do," she said. "They have this really great Main Street, but they need more people living there."

And so, plans for phase I of Main Street Landing (valued at $18 million) entail about 55 townhomes, proposed docks and 20,000 square feet of retail, which includes a 6,000-square-foot waterfront restaurant. About 201 parking spaces will be created.

Phase II (valued at more than $10 million) would offer 24 condos or townhomes in one building, additional parking for the boat ramp and retail fronting Main Street. Last month New Port Richey city council members voted 3-1 to approve the project.

Council member Ginny Miller said she hoped the approval would send a message "to other developers that here's a city that will sit down and figure out how to make this happen."

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]


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I live in New Port Richey.

The project is not a success.

-The project is the brainchild of the ex-mayor. Who is a business failure. He owes the State payroll taxes.

!He origanally got a promise of $1,250,000 in grant money from the city.

!Now, he wants $5,000,000!

-There was no construction on the project from October 2005 'till March 2006.

The architecture of the project features a zero offset from the main street (the street it is on, so that when you approach the river from the direction of the MAIN road (U.S. 19), you will not see the river. You will only see the businesses. Furthermore, the city of New Port Richey is small. In the "downtown", I don't think there is a building taller that 2 stories. THIS project is going to be 3 stories tall. It is not in scale with the surroundings.

Prior to starting this project, and buying up all the land, and tearing down the buildings, the layout of the building near the river was typical "car-culture" with the building offset from Main St, with some car parking in front. And the small lot directly in the corner of Main St and the river was empty because it is in a flood plain.

Also, prior to this project, it seemed like the city had gotten Fereral money for on of those street improvement projects with fake "old" looking lampposts, etc. One feature of that project involved the narowing of Main ST to have parrallel car parking on Main St (it was 2 lanes going though "downtown" now 1 lane). This included narrowing the bridge accross the river (Pithlachascotee) from 2 lanes to 1 lane, and a large number of "seats" along Main ST that were painted pink and are made of solid cement -- everyone calls them pink cofins. Well to get to the piont of mentioning the pink cofins is: the city asked some artists to paint a cofin apiece. So, one was painted like an old pirates chest, one looked like an aquarium, etc. Whoom -- this project is approved, and the pink cofins returned. The developers had the city janitors repaint the coffins pink.

To continue about the $1,250,000 - no make that $5,000,000. From March of this year(2006), after the project had abit more work done on it. the work stoped again. The project had some partial cement block walls built for the retail store fronts. These were (again) right against the sidewalk. So, the ex-mayor went back to the city to ask for more money, now that the old buildings were torn down and the project looked as ugly as you can imagine a half started project can look. In other words, they started building wallls for maximum ugly impact -- right next to Main St, rather than in the back of the lot. So, they were holding the city hostage for the competion of this project.

This is the "cornerstone" of the "redevlopment" of the city. I dispute the need for redevlopment. There were no empty, run down buildings on Main St. I come from Dearborn (an old suburb of Detroit). I know what run down empty buildings are. On top of that, is the notion that the exmayor has to get funding from the city. If this is such a finantially viable project (it on the river by god), shouldn't banks be waiting in line to get in on the action?

One last item.

-The exmayor wont be paying back the city for 15 years.

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