Palm Harbor restaurateur Jason Mitow has been eyeing Dunedin for years.
And even though his popular Lucky Dill Deli is sketched in as the centerpiece of Pizzuti Builders' conceptual renderings of Dunedin's downtown Gateway project last week, it's far from a done deal.
"We're working to make it a reality," Mitow said Friday.
The most recent proposal for the Dunedin Gateway project at the long-vacant 4.1-acre plot across from Mease Dunedin Hospital includes 138 upscale, one- and two-bedroom, multi-family units, along with two restaurants and retail stores on the bottom level.
Most of the Dunedin city commission raved over the conceptual plan on the basis of attracting a younger demographic to downtown and generating an estimated $340,400 in annual property tax revenue and $2.17 million in annual sales.
It was approved 4-1 during the Aug. 23 public meeting with Julie Scales as the dissenting vote.
"As a young person I would have loved that," Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said during the presentation of the plans Thursday. Bujalski is a longtime resident and graduate of Dunedin High School.
Pizzuti Builders purchased part of the Gateway land for $1.2 million in 2007. Originally, it was going to be used for mixed medical offices and retail space, but the economic downturn delayed the sale of the second half of the land, and thus, the land has been sitting primed and ready for years. The land now has a just market value of $890,000, according to the Pinellas County property records.
Pizzuti still must negotiate the purchase of the second land parcel.
In March, the commission further delayed the project and granted a nine-month extension for Pizzuti to close the sale. The deadline to close is approaching.
The prospect of more downtown dwellings does not excite everyone.
Scales, who offered the only dissenting vote, said she understood why the plans changed, but had "serious reservations" about moving away from the original spirit of the project, which was meant to help hospital needs and be a "signature" entry to downtown.
"I don’t feel a compulsion to do something just so something can happen right now," she said. "My preference is to wait..."
Pizzuti Builders explained that no one from the hospital expressed a need or interest in using the space, so plans were changed to accommodate what the market would support: mixed, family-use apartments, retail and restaurants.
It's the overall ability and openness to market needs that makes Dunedin attractive to Mitow.
"The city... does a great job of understanding business and balancing the uses downtown so as to be beneficial to the city as a whole," he said.
If the Gateway project continues to moves forward as the builders hope, Mitow could open a smaller version of his Palm Harbor restaurant downtown in late 2013 or early 2014, he said.
"It's a really exciting quintessential American downtown," he said.