OLDSMAR — It’s roughly one year into Eric Seidel’s term as mayor, and his campaign pledge to get the long-awaited development of the downtown district off the ground is quickly taking shape.
Last week, City Council, in its role as the board of the Oldsmar Community Redevelopment Agency, received an update on the project. The Oldsmar Town Center is a multiphase effort to connect State Street with St. Petersburg Drive and the waterfront. It is slated to start with a boutique hotel on a portion of the 10-acre parcel next to City Hall.
During its Jan. 23 work session, City Manager Al Braithwaite informed the CRA that the hotel being built by local developer the Simone Group was moving forward with a few minor tweaks, including repositioning the building on the northeast corner of the site, as is the chain hotel that will occupy a portion of the seven-acre lot on St. Petersburg Drive next to the library.
Both hotel projects were approved by the council in November with the caveat that certain goals and status updates must be met or the council could select a runner-up project.
Seidel said he was pleased to hear the initial cornerstones of the downtown redevelopment were moving along.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said in summarizing Braithwaite’s and Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelley’s updates. “But there is progress being made.”
However, the mayor made it clear he’s not content to wait for the shovels to hit the ground before moving on to the next step in phase one, which according to the master concept plan includes a parking garage, a water feature and public greenspace.
“I’m convinced if these projects are underway in 2020, that shows this is happening and then we will have the ability to find what we want for phase two,” Seidel said.
Phase two of the plan includes features such as an Armature Works-style food hall, a brewery, restaurants and possibly residential as well as co-work, mixed-use and interactive public space with a public-art pavilion.
But one thing Seidel emphasized that everyone agreed on was there will be no phase two, or phase one, until the parking garage is done.
Seidel said he has spoken with many of his fellow mayors, including Julie Ward Bujalski of Dunedin and George Cretekos of Clearwater, as well as other area civic leaders.
“And the one thing I know is if there’s no parking garage, there’s no downtown,” he said. “Because I’ve been told if you’re successful, you’re going to need it.”
Dunedin, for example, has been struggling to come up with a solution to parking problem around its downtown hospitality and shopping district for years.
Other Oldsmar council members agreed that a parking garage must be a priority.
Councilwoman Katie Gannon said after digging deeper into the plan, she realized “the necessity of the garage becomes apparent,” while council members Linda Norris, Dan Saracki and Sandie Grimes all gave Braithwaite the go-ahead to put the garage next on his to-do list, a task that is easier said than done.
“This garage is either going to be the end of me or my legacy, because I’m the one who has to say whether we can afford this thing or not,” a deadpan Braithwaite said about the structure, which has a rumored to cost of upwards of $10 million.
“It’s a bold investment,” Seidel admitted. “But it’s important for the future success of our downtown.”
After the 90-minute session, Seidel spoke about finally seeing progress on the downtown development.
“I feel good, cautiously optimistic, about where we’re at,” he said, adding, “It feels good to know the council is all on the same page” when it comes to executing the order, of the master plan.
Asked if it felt good to see the vision coming together following more than a decade of false starts, Seidel replied, “Absolutely. It’s no longer talking about progress—concrete steps are being taken. We can see a path to actually getting it done.”