LARGO — The sprawling 38-acre site at the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard has been an abandoned wasteland for eight years. This was once the home of the Crossroads Mall and, before that, the Bay Area Outlet Mall.
After the decaying old mall was knocked down, there were grand plans for a retail-residential hub called Largo Towne Center, complete with an amphitheater, a plaza with a fountain, apartments atop shops, and festivals to draw crowds.
"It's too bad the Towne Center didn't happen," said City Manager Mac Craig. "It was going to be something special, but then the recession hit."
Still, city leaders are pleased that construction has just started on a Walmart supercenter that is slated to open on the property by January. For the first time since 2005, bulldozers and front-end loaders are rumbling around the enormous site, which is basically a moonscape of dirt at this point.
Walmart is putting in roads, retention ponds, sewer lines and other infrastructure for the entire site, which will also include a 342-unit luxury apartment complex and a new bus transfer station.
"It's going to be nice," said Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager. "It's different than what it originally started out to be. But we're getting a decent Walmart and an awesome apartment complex."
The Walmart will be 120,000 square feet, down from the 200,000-square-foot stores the chain regularly opened seven or eight years ago. The store and its parking lot will take up nearly 14 acres on the 38-acre site's western side, next to U.S. 19.
After the store is built, construction crews will start on an apartment complex called Gateway North. Outfitted with a dog park, a large pool and a bike trail, the gated complex will go on the site's eastern side. It could be complete by late 2014.
Pollack Shores Real Estate Group of Atlanta decided to build the apartments after Largo gave the developer a big break on impact fees.
Everyone knows that a Walmart isn't exactly what city officials had in mind for this location a few years back. Walmart plans to create 150 new full-time equivalent jobs with an average salary of only $20,000 annually — about $21,000 under Pinellas County's average wage.
But Carol Stricklin, Largo's community development director, believes that the new store will spark some redevelopment in the surrounding area.
"This is a key property in a strategic location," she said. "It could be a catalyst to turn some other things around."
The owners of Tri-City Plaza, an older shopping center on the northwest corner of U.S. 19 and Roosevelt/East Bay Drive, are considering redevelopment plans, city officials said. Also, the growing Wawa chain is thinking about building a convenience store on a vacant lot on the intersection's southeast corner previously occupied by a furniture store.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.