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No sale on Gulf Seafood plan?

The former Gulf Seafood property on Stock Island could be sold to a private buyer after a long-planned effort to acquire it for public ownership reportedly has been rejected.
The former Gulf Seafood property on Stock Island could be sold to a private buyer after a long-planned effort to acquire it for public ownership reportedly has been rejected.

A years-long effort to put a Stock Island commercial-fishing yard in public ownership seems to have run aground.

Reportedly frustrated by conditions imposed by state negotiators, Gulf Seafood mortgage holder Bancorp., represented by receiver Andrew Bolnick and Associates, turned to a second buyer who was waiting in the wings, Monroe County Commission members heard Tuesday.

A real-estate closing on the 5-acre upland property with a 3-acre basin was scheduled Friday. Confirmation was pending at press time.

“We’ll see what happens on Friday,” county legislative liaison Lisa Tennyson told commissioners. “There may be something we can do if it falls through.”

Monroe County had pledged had $5 million toward the purchase, intended to preserve “working waterfront” for Lower Keys commercial fishers who have seen several former commercial-seafood marinas converted into private marinas or resorts. The Florida Communities Trust, an agency within the state Department of Environmental Protection, committed an additional $2.3 million and was handling the negotiation.

“Some of the basic terms of the DEP contract were not acceptable” to the Gulf Seafood side, Tennyson said. Those included a 120-day closing period for the purchase.

“The state indicated none of those terms was negotiable,” Tennyson said.

“We lost this at DEP,” said Commissioner Danny Kolhage, a Lower Keys commissioner who tried to help resolve the impasse.

Tennyson “did everything possible to make [DEP] understand how important this was to the county,” Kolhage said. “I’m sorry it turned out this way but she gave it everything to try to get this done.”

Commissioner David Rice said the apparent loss of the public purchase was a “good example” of a government agency “putting so many rules and regulations in the way that it takes so long, the deal moves away before you can close it.”

The Gulf Seafood property on Peninsular Avenue, recently operating as Fisherman’s Key Seafood, had faltered as a commercial seafood enterprise in recent years. A group of Lower Keys fishermen was seeking to write a management plan that would create a nonprofit entity to preserve the site for commercial fishers, providing a space for fishing boats to pay rent for dockage and trap storage.

The property has Mixed Use Commercial zoning, which means it potentially could be redeveloped into an upscale marina or resort. A resort would have to acquire rights for transient-rental units, limited under Monroe County’s comprehensive land-use plan.

Operators of two Stock Island seafood houses opposed the public purchase of Gulf Seafood, saying it would compete with private enterprise and could wind up as a financial burden to the county.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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