Drastic Revision on Tap For Largo as Much Vaunted Town Center Plan Goes Awry
by Leo Coughlin
LARGO – Plans for the Largo Town Center where the Bay Area Outlet Mall used to be on Roosevelt and U.S. 19 are down the drain and the property faces a drastic development revision.
The bad news stunned and chagrined City Commission members at their workshop meeting Tuesday evening.
What was once planned as an elaborate residential, business and social center now could become the site of something like a Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club store.
In fact, the memo briefing the commission on the situation says that because of the radical changes in the plans the focus must now be on “large scale retail.”
This is the very notion that Steve Stanton, the former city manager fought so strenuously, opting for the elaborate plan that has now come a-cropper.
As a result, the city has collected not one red cent in taxes on the large tract of land.
Some of the background that has led to what many term a developmental and business tragedy –
In early 2003 Wal-Mart made a presentation to city staff and commission on potential for purchase of the property at East Bay and 19. It was Wal-Mart’s idea to build a "super store."
This got opposition from several commission members who did not want a so-called “big box” retail outlet on the property as this apparently did not fulfill their esthetic ideas.
Stanton, in fact, at the time told at least one commission member that only "over my dead body will Wal-Mart build on that property."
In those days, the economy was booming, property prices were soaring and the city was raking in property tax money and the flush times naturally produced ideas for grand projects. Why not the best?
Now the economy is in the toilet, property values are sinking, tax revenues are diminishing, businesses are experiencing catastrophic times and all the grand plans have exploded in a collection of faces – in the business community as well as the governing bodies.
One never knows the road not taken, but had the Wal-Mart plan gone ahead six years ago Largo would have had a great revenue source. Lots of money would have been collected.
Instead, the city opted to go with a development plan put forward by Bob Schmidt, a local builder and developer, operating a company called Boulder Venture South.
A controversy arose when a pool supplies company planned to occupy a nearby corner of the property. Once it was established that there was no hazard for chemical endangerment, it appeared that Boulder Venture had a clear road head.
Just a year ago, the city approved a development agreement that involved Boulder Venture South and Weingarten Realty Investors which had been brought in as a partner with BSV.
But in December, BSV informed the city that “changes in the real estate market” required a revision in the Town Center plans because Weingarten had dropped out.
Now the city has what amounts to a white elephant on its hands and may wind up with a Wal-Mart, or something very similar to it, at the site.
A preliminary revision was submitted to the city in January and this involves radical changes. The retail space has been dropped from 584,000 to 326,000 square feet with the elimination of plans for restaurants and small shops.
Also gone is the plan for 258 condominium units, the concept of a “main street” ambience, and a public gathering plaza.
By now, under the original planning, construction would be going on with a planned completion date in November, 2010.
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