Port Charlotte water park plan dries up

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CHARLOTTE COUNTY - The plug has been pulled on a plan to bring a water park to Murdock Village in Port Charlotte. Sitting on the Sarasota County line, it becomes the latest failed endeavor for the more than $100 million piece of property owned by taxpayers.

Tim Richards' concrete yard ornament shop called Legere's Concrete Specialties sits right next to the property. He remains hopeful with every plan. "Every shot we got, and a ray of hope is a good thing."

Tuesday it was revealed that the latest plan, which included a water park, has dried up. "You think 'oh jeez, there goes another one.'  Some people step up to the plate and want to swing the bat. They get so far and then get totally frustrated. With regulation or financing concerns what have you."

Ten years later, the more than 1,100 acres still sits undeveloped.  It was bought by the local government for around $120 million.  But before a mixed use plan was complete, the bottom fell out of the real estate market. "It was a horrible idea. You never want to have government in the real estate speculation business," says Charlotte County Commissioner Christopher Constance.

Since then, other development plans have come and gone: subdivisions, European flea markets, a live entertainment venue, and now the water park.

The plan was to trade 137 acres on the site to local investors for a few dozen near the Punta Gorda airport. "I think the people involved with bringing forward that project were extremely well intentioned. They thought they had somebody who was willing to put in a water park. I think the economy was really bad at that point and still wasn't recovering in the appropriate fashion."

A long way from the intended downtown feel initially touted; a plan which could have had regional impacts. "Good projects that happen in North Port benefit us. Anything that happens in Murdock Village in Charlotte County is going to benefit North Port."

The county is paying thousands of dollars in interest per day, with around $50 million to still pay off.

They are determined though to get something out of it, says Constance. "We want to get what it is worth."

For those like Tim they just want to see something more concrete. "I don't really have a preference of what it would be. Just so that it is something that is going to create some type of destination."

County leaders we talked to say they are starting to see some positive indications in the real estate market that better things are to come for the area.

Charlotte County is still in talks with Ripken Baseball to build youth tournament fields on the property. It is located right across the street from the Tampa Bay Rays spring training facility.