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Date of Issue: January 12, 2006

Appraisal stalls Seafood Shack proposal

An appraisal expected variously at year's end and mid-January has not materialized, so any progress on a proposal for Manatee County to buy the Seafood Shack in Cortez is stalled for the moment.

Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who lives in Cortez, said the appraiser has until Feb. 14 to give the county administrator an estimate of value, though earlier it was thought it would be done by Dec. 31 and then by the middle of January.

But County Administrator Ernie Padgett said that was overly optimistic and the Feb. 14 contract date is more likely for delivery of the appraisal.

Von Hahmann pointed out that the county must try to score high on grant-application basics so Manatee can try for help on a purchase from, for instance, the Florida Communities Trust.

"If we can't get grant funds, I don't know if we could take it on," she said. It's a valuable property, she noted, and it could well be out of the county's reach if the appraisal comes out high. On the other hand, Sarasota County to the south has overcome such obstacles on a waterfront land deal of its own.

Padgett said that a middle-range appraisal could make it possible - but "if it's too high, the county can't do it; if it's too low, it won't be attractive to Mr. Jones."

Ham Jones of Longboat Key is the owner, having founded the Shack 30 years ago and operated it since as a restaurant seating 550 patrons plus a large paddle-wheel party and dining boat. He has expressed interest in selling but has not set a price.

Support for the county buying the property and turning it to public use as a maritime museum, possibly with boat-launching ramps, has been strong in the historic fishing village of Cortez, but across Cortez Road among newer, more upscale residents, opposition has developed.

Some Cortezians cite Sarasota County's paying 45 percent above appraisal for land at Blackburn Point for a boat ramp. Some real estate interests there said the county paid too much for 11 acres at $16 million, but county officials defended it as "a wise investment."

Such waterfront property won't be available for long at any price, they said. The property's owner proved to the county that he had a firm offer for $16 million, which the county matched.