University Corners close to approval


Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 11:52 p.m.

University Corners inched closer to final approval Monday as city commissioners reviewed what developers described as minor adjustments necessary to make the $187 million project profitable.

But though the eight-story project moved a little further through a long approval process, Gainesville city commissioners said they worried a changed or incomplete project could leave the intersection of NW 13th Street and W. University Avenue developed poorly or not at all.

With Monday's review, University Corners is two votes from final commission approval, which could come in the next few months.

Particularly at issue for some commissioners is ensuring the changes they approve — which would mean more residential units, less commercial space and a larger above-ground parking garage — will not be altered further.

Commissioner Rick Bryant said the concern came because it appears that Daytona-based developers, who previously had taken a backseat, are more active in the project than those involved with local roots.

"There were a lot of promises made on this project and these promises were made by Mr. Darabi," said Bryant, referring to Frank Darabi, who was formerly described as the project's managing partner. More recently, developers have referred to him as a consultant. "This was to be a Gainesville project with a lot of Gainesville involvement."

As a result of these concerns, and at the recommendation of the city attorney, commissioners unanimously asked staff to include binding language in the project's final approvals that would govern issues such as the amount of retail space, the aesthetic design and the schedule of the project.

Commissioners Ed Braddy and Scherwin Henry were absent during the vote.

George Anderson, one of the Tampa-based developers involved in the project, indicated the developers would be willing to talk about the city's conditions.

"We're committed to the project, sir, and whatever it takes to do it, we're going to do," Anderson said to Bryant during the meeting.

University Corners was first proposed in 2004, though the project has continued to grow and change. The latest version of the project, designed to respond to increased construction costs and concerns about filling retail and residential space, reached city planners this summer, about 1 years after the project was initially approved.

Developers said Monday the project could be completed by late 2009 or early 2010, not far off the schedule originally proposed.

The changes are extensive enough to require the city to formally amend its previous approvals.

They add more lower-priced condos to the complex and reduce the amount of retail space. Under the proposal, the project could include up to 475 condominium units and at least 70,000 square feet of retail space.

To reduce costs, the two levels of underground parking that were part of the original project were cut after developers determined they would be too expensive to construct in Gainesville's wet soil.

Commissioners also indicated they would need to review an agreement granting the project about $98 million in tax reimbursements over 20 years through Gainesville's Community Redevelopment Agency, which is directed by the city commissioners.

Though Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan voted against the reimbursements, she said it was important the city stand by the deal so long as the final project was similar to the one commissioners voted to incentivize.

Commissioner Craig Lowe said that might no longer be the case.

"I agree the developer should be able to rely on that deal," Lowe said. "But I think to an extent the deal is being changed here."

Jeff Adels/on can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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