Murdock Village stuck in limbo
MURDOCK — In the last decade, no shortage of grandiose projects has been proposed for Murdock Village.
Ideas for a bustling community with residential, commercial and retail space have been kicked around, as well as proposals for an arts-and-entertainment district, a water park, and a youth baseball experience that would draw thousands of visitors to Charlotte County each year.
So far, none has panned out.
Officials now say it’s time to regroup and get clear on what the vision is for Murdock Village.
The County Commission will meet at 1 p.m. Jan. 29 at the County Administration Building, Room B106, 18500 Murdock Circle, to discuss how the county should proceed with the beleaguered piece of property that thus far has cost taxpayers more than $110 million.
“Murdock Village can still be a very positive driving force in the economy for Charlotte County,” County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch said during a workshop last week. “I don’t want to see us have any discussion about the past. It’s not about that. It’s about the future.”
Among the chief things that need to be determined, economic-development experts say, is who should develop the property.
Rob Humpel, president of Florida Premier Contractors, was part of the development teams involved in trying to bring a water park to Murdock Village. He said the county needs to decide whether it will take on the role of master developer, or whether it wants to recruit a master developer to build the infrastructure needed on the property.
“The reality is any master developer that comes in that wants to take the whole piece of property, not only does he have to buy the whole property for whatever that price it is set at, but he now has to do millions of dollars in improvements to it — utilities, roads, stormwater systems. You can go on and on,” he said. “The value of that work right now is high, compared to the inherent value of the property. Somebody’s got to risk a lot of money to develop it to a point where he might be able to get a return on it.”
And that’s a tough sell in a soft economy, Humpel said.
Southwest Land Developers, a company headed by local entrepreneur Bruce Laishley, tried to entice Waterpark Ventures LLC in to build a 300-room indoor/outdoor water park resort on 40 acres of the long-vacant Murdock Village property.
The resort would be contingent on a massive land swap between the county and SLD, in which local businessmen would trade nearly 34 acres of shovel-ready land near the Punta Gorda Airport to the county, in return for 137 acres of Murdock Village lining State Road 776.
But the deal stalled after developers failed to find investors willing to finance the $110 million project.
On the other hand, if the county assumes the role of master developer, it would have to invest money in building roadways, utilities and stormwater systems — among other things — to ensure proper development, Humpel said.
“Imagine that three people come in and buy pieces of Murdock Village and they all do their own thing. If there’s no master developer involved, there’s no continuity. It becomes a bunch of disjointed projects, and that’s not a good thing,” he said.
Economic Development Director Tom Patton said he wants commissioners to give him unified direction on which way the county wants to proceed because “we can’t do both.”
County Commissioner Ken Doherty said he wants staff to give commissioners a full overview of where Murdock stands with regard to zoning, permitting, utility easements and environmental issues, among other things.
“One of the logical next discussion items then is what realistically will be the county’s role in anything that unfolds there?” he said.