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Lawsuit clouds Largo Towne Center project

Mounds of dirt sit on the site of the old Crossroads Mall. Plans for an open-air complex there, called Largo Towne Center, have been in the works for years.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Mounds of dirt sit on the site of the old Crossroads Mall. Plans for an open-air complex there, called Largo Towne Center, have been in the works for years.

LARGO — The future of a once-grand plan to create a walkable mega-development in east Largo is looking even murkier.

The 38.5-acre property near Roosevelt Boulevard and U.S. 19 is at the center of a foreclosure suit.

There's talk of a big-box store on the site and maybe a shopping center down the road. But that's a far cry from the original plans for Largo Towne Center as an open-air complex with upscale shops, trendy restaurants, offices and homes.

Over the past few years, city leaders have seen various incarnations of the project. Most are significantly scaled back since Boulder Venture South LLC proposed ambitious plans for the site about six years ago.

Now, the city is talking with Wells Fargo, one of the banks that holds a mortgage on the property.

"We have been working with them very closely on issues like site design, to produce a quality project," said Carol Stricklin, the city's community development director.

Together, Wells Fargo and Regions Bank say the property owner, a subsidiary of Boulder Venture South, owes them a total of $20 million, according to a suit filed in February.

Robert Schmidt Jr., chief executive officer of Boulder Venture South, did not return calls for comment by deadline Tuesday.

The site previously was occupied by Bay Area Outlet Mall. Built in 1984, the mall had occupancy problems for years. A Miami company bought the property in 2000, renamed it Crossroads Mall and tried unsuccessfully to turn it around. In 2005, Boulder Venture bought the property for $26 million.

The future of the property is still unknown. A mound of dirt sits on the lot behind a boarded up Ruby Tuesday restaurant. Stricklin said the Sembler Co., a well-known St. Petersburg-based retail developer and property manager, is working with the bank on a concept for the project.

In October, the Sembler Co., which was working with the property owner then, presented its vision called Largo Commons, billed as "a lively shopping destination with shopping and dining opportunities."

The open-air concept featured two big-box stores and a smattering of smaller stores and shops. The project would be built in two phases, with the construction of one of the big-box stores first.

It's not clear if the Sembler Co.'s concept has changed since then. The company did not return several calls for comment.

Largo Commissioner Harriet Crozier said the site has potential. She and Largo Mayor Pat Gerard have heard that Walmart has an interest in it.

"We've been trying to get hopefully more than just a Walmart there," Gerard said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

>> Fast facts

Timeline

July 2005: Boulder Venture South LLC announces plans for a $145 million mixed-use town center on the site of the old Crossroads Mall.

2005-2007: The developers oppose a proposal submitted by a pool retailer to build its headquarters next door. The parties work out that matter, but then the developer must pitch multiple proposals to city staff and satisfy traffic mitigation issues with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

March 2008: City commissioners approve a development agreement for a $150 million proposal with 646,000 square feet of retail, 30,000 square feet of offices and 258 apartments. A subsidiary of Boulder Venture South and Weingarten Realty Investors (partners on the project) hope to break ground by end of the year.

March 2009: An economic downturn makes finding tenants and financing difficult. Developer presents plan for 326,000 square feet of retail, with two large anchor stores, 50,000 square feet of office space and two large parking lots.

Oct. 2010: Weingarten is no longer involved. The Sembler Co. presents plans for a center with about 290,000 square feet of retail. The modified two-phase project includes two big-box stores, a strip of shops and smaller stores.

Lawsuit clouds Largo Towne Center project 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:19pm]
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