Port Clinton's hope for waterfront development took a big hit Monday.
Puller Group, an Indianapolis-based developer, pulled out of negotiations with the city and will not pursue the proposed construction of a waterpark, convention center and hotel at Waterworks Park, Mayor Debbie Hymore-Tester said.
"We just couldn't come to an agreement -- that's what it boiled down to," Hymore-Tester said. The Pullers "felt it was time to move on."
Safety-Service director Robert Berner said there was confusion during negotiations over the use of the $7 million of Tax Increment Financing. Under Ohio law, TIF money can only be used for infrastructure improvements, but Puller Group was hoping to use that money to partially fund the project, Berner said.
Kenneth Puller Sr., CEO and president, did not return a call Monday.
The waterfront development project has been in the works for two years. In November, residents approved a zoning change of the park, paving the way for the $99 million development.
"To say the least, I am disappointed, but I respect their decision at this time, and I wish their company the best in future endeavors," Hymore-Tester said. "I'm sure some people will be disappointed, and I'm sure that some people will be happy who didn't want any development."
Councilmen Glenn Chapman and Jeff Morgan had opposed the project and insisted that it was not right for Port Clinton.
"I'm not surprised at all," Morgan said. "From the very beginning, I was against this. In my mind, it could never work to solve the problems Port Clinton wanted it to solve. To give up the waterfront to solve the problems was not in the best interest of the city."
Citizens Organized for Responsible Development collected a petition to put the Waterworks Park zoning change on the ballot. The group adamantly opposed Puller Group's project.
"It was an ill-conceived project from the beginning," group member Jerry Jonke said.
The zoning change was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
Council president Linda Hartlaub said the news is not all bad. The zoning approval and environmental studies have moved the project forward.
"We're (further) ahead than we were a year ago," Hartlaub said. "I think we're in a better position, and I think we need to look at this as a positive."
Berner said the Waterworks Park progress could be seen as a positive for other developers since it will be "shovel ready."
Hymore-Tester said the city is looking ahead to the next step.
The city's negotiating team will meet to discuss the options and send out new requests for qualifications to targeted developers.
The developer selection will be done internally, but the city might consider community expertise, Berner said.
Stonehenge, another developer, had planned a mixed-used development with condominiums and was the No. 2 choice behind Puller Group. It is not clear whether the company will be reconsidered.
"That was a gigantic development," Morgan said. "I doubt if (company president Mo Dioun would) respond. I'd be quite surprised if he did."
City residents may have to wait until another developer is found.
Puller Group was first considered in July 2006 and chosen in January 2007.
Councilman Mike Snider said he was disappointed but ready to look ahead.
"Yes, it's a setback," Snider said. "With any good thing, you have to take the good with the bad.
"There's some definite positive days ahead for Port Clinton. This is just one of the down sides in this whole process."