Take backs: City might reclaim land near riverfront

Clause in contract allows Palatka to buy back undeveloped property it sold more than four years ago

More than four years ago, Palatka commissioners sold riverfront property to developers with clauses in the contracts to buy back the land when a certain period of time elapsed. Now the city is looking to buy a portion of the land back, pending commissioner approval at Thursday’s commission meeting.

The city is seeking to buy back two parcels behind the 100 block property, consisting of a section of the parking lot facing Reid Street and the volleyball court on St. Johns Avenue. The area has not been developed, and city documents said the city had the option to purchase the land back four years after the initial sale if it isn’t developed.

Riverfront Development Group purchased land near the riverfront for $150,000 in 2013. The 100 block buildings were renovated, though the top floors are being rented as apartment space. Retail businesses for the bottom level haven’t opened. Riverfront Development Group owner Corky Diamond did not respond to requests for comment.

SHP Hospitality purchased riverfront property in 2013 for $163,000. A Hampton Inn was completed on the property in 2016. A portion north of the hotel was slated for commercial, retail or restaurant development when the hotel received a certification of occupancy, according to city documents, and the city set aside $35,000 buy the land back.

The value is based on the size of the land compared to the overall property, city documents said. SHP Hospitality owner Sanjay Patel said he believed the land’s value was closer to $60,000. 

“Now that’s 50 percent off. That cannot be viable,” Patel said. “I tried my best to bring an Outback Steakhouse, but they had no interest right now.”

In June, the city gave staff direction to explore buying the land back. Mayor Terrill Hill said the city provided extensions to developers. He called both pieces of property critical for developing downtown Palatka, and he stressed to need to find an alternative.

“I think (Patel) tried to make efforts, and we find ourselves in a situation where it’s time to go in another direction,” Hill said. “I think we’re starting to see property that’s been vacant for long periods of time exchange hands and people are coming in, purchasing property and moving forward with plans to use it rather than sitting on it.”