BROOKSVILLE — The county administrator estimates it will cost taxpayers $10 million to improve the intersection of Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50, recently named the most dangerous crossroads in Hernando County.
The developer of Cortez Commons, at the southwest corner of that intersection, will chip in an estimated $150,000 to help pay for a new traffic signal at the shopping center entrance off Mariner Boulevard and for other intersection improvements.
It is common for developers and property owners of new shopping centers to mitigate costs for transportation improvements. But for Michael Collard Properties Inc. out of Winter Park — the developer of Cortez Commons — good timing and location were on his side.
County planner Omar DePablo said because State Road 50 already is under construction and being widened to four lanes by Florida’s Department of Transportation, many of the roadway improvements that the developer might have had to pay for already are being done.
Michael Collard Properties will directly benefit from those road improvements without having to pay for them.
“(The developer) didn’t have to pay out as much if FDOT wasn’t there,” DePablo said.
The developer is also fortunate to be on the south side of the road, where road improvements will not be as hefty.
County Engineer Mark Guttman said the northern corners will command the highest price tag because the county will have to acquire right of way along Mariner Boulevard to facilitate traffic flow.
The county soon will conduct an analysis to determine which side of Mariner — east or west — is the least expensive to buy and makes the most sense logistically.
For example, if the east side is chosen, it likely would mean acquiring property where the Circle K and a car wash now stand. The other (west) side has a Walgreens and Western Way.
Site acquisition is expensive, Guttman said.
The same process was used when the county decided to widen a .8-mile stretch of Elgin Boulevard and spent some $2.7 million to acquire homes along the east side of the road.
Guttman said based on talks with the developer of Cortez Commons, the issue to build now was based more on economics than the timing of the State Road 50 widening.
“I think the developer is the first to know when it’s a good time to pull the trigger,” said Guttman, who added that all off-site improvements must be completed before Hernando County issues a certificate of occupancy.
Like other developers, Michael Collard Properties had to pay a firm to complete a traffic study showing estimated numbers of patron trips into and out of Cortez Commons, intensity of use, location of stores and other variables.
County engineers apply that study to the Hernando County facility design guidelines, which spell out use of frontage roads and other project criteria.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said each project is considered on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s an ever-shifting formula,” he said.
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Several big-name chains have committed to Cortez Commons. They include Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bonefish Grill, Hobby Lobby, Mattress Firm and Vitamin Shoppe.
Chili’s Grill & Bar also has expressed interest.
For years, the 20-acre commercial parcel at the southwest corner of State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard was for sale. But because of a weak economy, the developer had not moved forward.
That changed last year. Hernando Today got hold of a conceptual plan for Cortez Commons and broke the news that 10 retailers were interested in moving into the project, creating the largest retail hub in Hernando County.
State Road 50 is in the middle of a widening project that will four-lane the road in both directions. That project should be done in 2015.
The land is owned by the late Hardy Huntley, a real estate developer and entrepreneur who owned some 2,000 acres in Hernando County and the surrounding region.
The 20-acre Cortez Commons is divided into two properties, with access off State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard. The tract wraps around the CVS drugstore.
In 2001, Hardy Huntley Properties Inc. bought the tract with State Road 50 access for $800,000, the county property appraiser’s website shows.
The following year, Huntley paid $850,000 for a second tract accessing Mariner Boulevard.