Work on Stadium Club to resume; University Corners still on hold
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 7:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 10:51 p.m.
The wheels of development are expected to shake off the rust and start churning again for at least one of the stalled construction projects across from the University of Florida.
The new owners of the Stadium Club are expected to resume construction soon on the half-built condominium project across from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
But five blocks away, the University Corners property likely will remain an empty field this year as the owners wait for financial markets to improve.
City Building Official Doug Murdock said he met with the Stadium Club owner and representatives, who told him they planned to complete the project under the original permit, which called for an eight-story building with retail space and 24 luxury condos marketed to wealthy Gator fans. He said he is meeting next week with the project's contractor, architect and engineer to discuss plans.
"Their intent is to mobilize in the near future," Murdock said.
A company attorney did not return calls for comment.
The University Corners development at University and Northwest 13th Street has had no movement with the city, Murdock said, and a consultant on the project said financing deals might not be possible until the second half of the year at the current rate of economic recovery.
Both properties have been sitting nearly untouched for more than three years.
Construction stopped on the Stadium Club at 1802 W. University Ave. in December 2007 with the shell of four stories completed when financing fell through for the North Redington Beach owners to complete the project.
RLR Investments, owned by Larry Roberts Sr. and family of Ocala, purchased the property at foreclosure auction in October 2010 for $1.5 million. The previous owners bought it for $2.1 million in 2007.
Roberts is the multimillionaire owner of a large Ohio-based trucking company and developer of what is arguably the most exclusive country club in the region, RLR Golden Ocala, another failed development he revived with a $42 million infusion.
John Thomas of Bosshardt Realty Services handled leasing for the Stadium Club's previous owners and is involved again.
"The current owners have every intention to do something there that the city would be proud of," he said, adding that he was instructed not to provide details.
Before construction halted in 2007, the project had 22 of 24 condos reserved with eight of those under contract, he said, and he had no doubt its proximity to the University of Florida and the football stadium would make it a success.
The original condo prices ranged from $400,000 to $1.8 million.
"The condo market's down all over the state of Florida, but this is a one-of-a-kind location," Thomas said.
Former Gator receiver Chris Doering, of Gainesville, had reserved one of the original condos. He said Thursday that he'd have to see what the new plans are to know if he'd be interested again.
"I still think it's a great idea," he said. "You're talking about 90,000 people who come here on a Saturday. Having a location like that I think you would be able to fill with folks that it would appeal to. There's a pretty limited supply there."
While RLR might be able to complete the Stadium Club, the owners of University Corners do not have deep enough pockets to complete that project on their own.
The plans called for 450 condos and hotel units and 98,000 square feet of retail space in eight stories covering three city blocks. Demolition on the existing retail and residential buildings was complete in April 2007, but the project was put on hold while the Florida Supreme Court considered the legality of using city property tax reimbursements to fund development projects. That was settled in 2008, but in the meantime financial markets ground to a halt.
Principal owner George Anderson, a Daytona Beach hotelier, and partners at GDA Investments did not return calls for comment, but local project consultant Frank Darabi said they were exploring private financing options, with bank financing now harder to come by than when the project began.
"George didn't take all the money he could have or he'd be half built like other projects," Darabi said.
Private financing could include REITs — real estate investment trusts — or deals that would split up the condo/hotel, garage and retail sections to spread the risk, he said.
Darabi said he thought financing might be possible in the third quarter of the year.
Once financed, the project would be ready to build with design complete and permitting in hand, he said.
Since the recession started, Anderson and partners also have put on hold a 1,000-room beachfront condo-hotel on the Daytona Beach Boardwalk and the Daytona Beach Shores Town Center condo and retail project.
Gainesville city Commissioner Randy Wells, whose district encompasses both projects, said he has heard concerns about project delays as people are eager to see projects that generate city tax revenues and jobs and support existing businesses, "but I think we all are aware so long as the financial markets are unsteady it's not surprising that it would be difficult to move forward."
He said he has a "strong faith" in the value this community possesses "as a very, very good investment to do business in" once markets thaw.
"All you have to do is look down a few blocks east to where you're seeing The Continuum moving forward, privately financed," he said. "The university is making a major commitment at the Innovation Hub now coming out of the ground."