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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

Boom feels like 'rebirth' for Madeira Beach


Published:   |   Updated: July 26, 2014 at 11:01 PM

Evidence of this city’s increasingly friendly attitude toward development is everywhere.

A 91-room Courtyard Marriott on the Intracoastal Waterway is slated for a fall opening, and the long-derelict Leverock’s fish house on the opposite side of the Tom Stuart Causeway has been cleared away to make room for a possible hotel and restaurant.

There’s talk of an even bigger hotel near Johns Pass, and several existing lodgings along Gulf Boulevard are in various stages of expansion.

Earlier this month, Madeira Beach commissioners approved changes to the land development code that formalize the city’s flexible approach to construction projects.

Rather than giving projects a “yes” or “no” based on their conformity to rigid land-use rules, the city will consider each individually and look at negotiating small concessions, as long as developers offer something in exchange, such as enhanced landscape or extra parking.

“What you’re seeing is like a rebirth of our city,” Mayor Travis Palladeno said. City tax revenues are exploding this year, and Palladeno says next year’s outlook is even better, with several new hotels, condominiums and restaurants expected to be open for business.

In the past few years, the city has come to embrace the need for more hotel space after a prolonged trend toward residential condominiums across Pinellas County that was starting to erode the tourism industry.

Madeira Beach’s first chain hotel, the Courtyard Marriott, required the city to ease its building height restrictions by a few feet.

Even small deviations from city land codes have spurred lengthy debates in neighboring cities such as Treasure Island, but commissioners here decided some wiggle room was needed to attract viable redevelopment.

“Basically what we’re doing is creating a situation here where if developers run into a roadblock, they can approach the city and say we need some help with this, so it’s no longer a dead end,” City Manager Shane Crawford said.

That doesn’t mean builders will have free rein to do as they please.

Commissioners and the public will be involved actively to ensure every element of builders’ plans fit the area of the city where they want to build.

“We don’t want it to be trivial or confrontational, but we’re not going to give you a blank check,” Crawford said.

With countywide hotel occupancy rates near 80 percent this year, demand is growing for new lodgings to replace aging mom and pop motels up and down Gulf Boulevard.

Adjustments to the county’s development plan since the 2008 recession allow for bigger hotels with more rooms in some areas to make transient lodging as attractive to investors as residential projects. Recent changes in Madeira Beach’s development rules bring the city more in line with the county’s broader limits for hotel development, said David Healey, a planning consultant in the city’s new ordinances.

“In order for someone to receive the same return on their property, there had to be a greater number of hotel units to residential to interest someone in hotel property,” Healey said.

With the city also investing in new softball fields and looking to bring in more sports teams for tournaments, hoteliers have high hopes for a strong tourism business in coming years.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for a brand new hotel to be part of the economic growth in this town,” said Jessica Respondek, director of sales at the Courtyard Marriott.

 

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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