TRINITY — Mike Orsi is the involuntary developer of Trinity Tuscan Center.
Involuntary, because one of the Orsi family companies, Sunfield Homes, sold the 13.5 acres of land at Little Road and Trinity Boulevard nearly 14 years ago for $5.4 million.
But Tarpon Springs-based developer Bill Planes’ planned pedestrian-friendly Trinity Town Center — a dozen Mediterranean-style buildings intended to hold upscale restaurants, boutique shops and professional offices surrounding a Main Street-like area with a clock tower and outdoor gathering space — flopped.
Against the backdrop of the Great Recession, a collapsing real estate market, accusations of bad faith, prolonged legal entanglements and eventually U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the Trinity Town Center stood as an unfinished edifice — an unsightly cinder-block elephant in one of Pasco County’s wealthiest communities. Today, its only tenants are Raymond James Financial and Lifespring Church.
In late 2016, eight years after the originally scheduled completion, the Orsi family’s newly formed Trinity Tuscan Center LLC retrieved the property as part of the bankruptcy proceedings involving Planes’ former company, Trinity Town Center LLLP. Sunfield Homes not only sold the property, it lent money for the development and was owed $13.7 million.
And, no, this isn’t how Orsi planned it.
For one thing, Orsi companies own commercial property elsewhere, including 34 vacant acres across the street from the Trinity Tuscan Center.
“I could build there and not be bothered with what he (Planes) did,’’ Orsi said. “But it didn’t happen. It’s not my forte to do what he anticipated.’’
Instead, the new Orsi company is refurbishing the long-dormant, partially completed project to rebuild the development’s credibility and to attract tenants that never materialized.
“We had to take the staleness and the negative image from it, and that’s what we’re focusing on,’’ said Orsi. “We’re going into the market place (to seek tenants), but there was no point in trying to attract people into the place until you’ve got it refurbished and cleaned up.’’
They rechristened the property as Trinity Tuscan Center, cleaned off the graffiti, replaced broken windows and are installing structural steel, tile roofs, windows, doors, stucco and paint. Scaffolding towers, the sound of power tools and subcontractors’ signs for plumbing, air conditioning, stucco and roofing companies signal the construction activity.
Pasco County approved the center’s preliminary construction and drainage plans on Aug. 13. The plans show more than 150,000 square feet of leasable space, including three spots designated for restaurants and 11 spaces for office/retail. The parking garage is another 118,000 square feet.
Among the hoped-for tenants is a specialty grocery store to occupy 24,000 square feet. Orsi said they also plan to put a metal roof over the top floor of the parking deck where they can affix solar panels to power the lighting.
The renewed work is creating a buzz in the community.
“Everybody is just itching to see what is gong to show up,’’ said Realtor Dan Roberts, who is not affiliated with the project, but who started and administers the 1,700-member “Trinity Town Center Update Page’’ on Facebook.
“It would be an amazing community asset,’’ said Roberts. “To get the sort of town center with that true, fully realized landscape, you have to go to downtown St. Petersburg or to an Armature Works-style location (in Tampa). The draw will be regional for something like that.’’
Trinity Tuscan Center is within the county commission district represented by Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who relayed a project update through her constituent newsletter in May.
“That center has stunning architecture and certainly lays itself out for some very nice restaurants and some very nice shopping for the community. I’m really glad to see the activity there,’’ she said last week.
Orsi was not specific on a time line except to say “from my part, it’s not fast enough.’’ He said the ongoing work is being done “all out of pocket. No financing.’’
He declined to speculate on tenants. Recruitment is tied to the area’s demographics, number of rooftops and competition in the marketplace, which is increasing. For instance, Sprouts Farmers Market already announced it would locate in another planned pedestrian-friendly project — the nearby Villages at Mitchell Ranch at Little Road and State Road 54.
“I absolutely will do my duty to get it finished,’’ Orsi said. He later offered a tongue-in-cheek paraphrase of Field of Dreams’ dialogue to sum up the Trinity Tuscan Center effort.
“We’ll build it. They will come.’’