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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 5 years ago

No longer vacant

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A site that sat empty for more than a decade has new life, with a $60 million project.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

After more than a decade standing vacant, the former campus of Nielsen Media Research in Dunedin is getting a spice of life.

Nielsen moved out of the 23-acre site in 2005, taking with it 1,600 employees who covered two shifts. Businesses along Patricia Avenue in the Pinellas County city were left hoping for something to quickly fill the site that used to be the area's anchor.

That didn't happen. Nielsen sold the property to developer Grady Pridgen in 2005. Wells Fargo then seized the still-vacant property in 2009 after the company defaulted on its loan.

Zoned as industrial land, the city continued to encourage a new business to move to the space. “It was one of the things that kept coming back to haunt us,” says Robert Ironsmith, Dunedin's economic and housing development director.

For eight years the property sat without any movement, waiting for a big company to come along and fill the void. “It was a barren piece of property,” Ironsmith says. Over the years, the city moved through plans from six developers with different ideas. Primerica Group One was the city's seventh candidate.

“Most commercial developers have been aware of the Nielsen property for some time — it's a rather large property,” says Lou Fabrizio of Primerica One Group. Though his company had looked at the property a few different times, “the market wasn't there given the use allowed,” he says.

But in 2014, the city approved the bank's request to rezone the land as multiuse. Primerica jumped on it.

In 2015, the group came to the city with a plan for a $50 million project called the Dunedin Commons that would include apartments, townhomes, retail and office space. “It was really what the market was crying for,” Fabrizio says. “Dunedin hasn't had a new large multifamily development in 15 to 20 years.”

A Primerica feasibility study came back even stronger than expected. “It put the wind in our sails,” Fabrizio adds. Both the demand for rentals and the comparable rental rates for the area provided the support they needed.

The city also provided an incentive for the project — a $150,000 grant over five years and one acre worth $33,000, according to Ironsmith. The return on the investment is worth it, Ironsmith adds. For each dollar, the city expects to see $11 in return.

The groundbreaking for the site occurred in mid-December. It has expanded to be a $60 million project, with the luxury apartments a $40 million project itself, not to mention the expansion of the city's tax base, Fabrizio says.

Primerica sold the five acres on the east side of the project to Beazer Homes to sell townhomes. The developer is also building 280 apartments on the main parcel, and 8,000 square feet of retail space. There's an additional 4.1 acres open for office use development.

The retail part of the project is easy for Primerica. “Retail is our mainstay,” Fabrizio says. Though it's a little early to start leasing, the company has good relationships with the brokers for the community, and will soon start contacting potential tenants. Primerica aims to have those users active when the units and space are ready at the end of the year.

The company is now going to focus on aggressively marketing the office portion of the project, selling the site to a user and building it to suit their needs. “The office portion is still a mystery,” Fabrizio says.

The most exciting part of the project is the impact it will make on the surrounding community, Fabrizio says. “The economic impact from the new residents to the area and the velocity of the project itself ... the restaurants are already feeling the impact,” he says. Construction workers have already started to fill the local lunch spots.

City officials hope the project will help spur redevelopment along Patricia Avenue, and serve as a catalyst for the whole area, Ironsmith says. “It's a great success story of perseverance.”

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