LARGO — Missouri Avenue is a mixed bag. It's a jumbled assortment of auto body shops, fast food joints, check-cashing businesses, carpet and furniture showrooms, family restaurants and big-box chains.
Its dated strip centers are a magnet for locally owned small businesses. It's an affordable place to shop, surrounded by mostly blue-collar and moderate-income neighborhoods.
Now, after a long recession, the stretch of Missouri Avenue that runs through Largo is starting to see some construction and redevelopment activity.
Things are looking up. But there remain some long-vacant spots that are sources of blight along this busy road, like missing teeth in the middle of a smile. There's an abandoned-looking structure that resembles a haunted house. There's a nearly 8-acre lot with nothing but asphalt and weeds.
In recent times, the most desolate spot had been the intersection of Missouri and Rosery Road, with an abandoned gas station, a closed Kmart and a dead Publix.
Now, new buildings are rising there.
By the end of summer, Walmart will move across Missouri Avenue, leaving behind its aging store on the intersection's southwest corner. The retail giant is building a modern store on the southeast corner. That replaces a 40-year-old Kmart that closed in 2012 and was recently torn down.
The new Walmart will be 119,000 square feet, similar in size to the old one across the street.
On the northwest corner of the intersection, a shopping center called Midway Plaza is being remade by construction crews, a couple of years after a Publix moved out. A 45,000-square-foot LA Fitness will soon appear, as well as a T.J. Maxx and a Ross Dress For Less.
"It's great to see another location be redeveloped," said Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager. "Over the next year, there's going to be an amazing change at that intersection."
A notoriously unsightly, boarded up gas station sits on the southeast corner. With the new Walmart under construction, companies are showing interest in gas station location, Brydon said.
Just south of the Midway Plaza site, the real estate company Primerica is marketing a 7.62-acre vacant parcel, most of it a windswept, weedy parking lot. A new Wawa convenience store is slated for the section fronting Missouri Avenue. The rear of the lot, bordering Rosery Road, remains on the market.
"Missouri Avenue was one of the city's first major commercial corridors. It really does have that mixed-use character," said Carol Stricklin, Largo's community development director. "There are some older commercial plazas that are in need of revitalization. Retail properties have a life cycle, and I think you're starting to see the market respond to that."
Here's what's happening at some other spots:
Current Walmart: The retail giant's location on the west side of Missouri will soon be empty, but Walmart has a lease on that space for several more years and may continue renting it to keep competitors away.
"I'd like to avoid having a dark box. I'm hopeful we'll be able to backfill it with other retailers," said Paul Puma, regional president for Kimco Realty Corp., which owns the shopping center with the current Walmart.
Roosterfish Grill: This seafood restaurant opened in May 2013 at 776 Missouri, taking over the spot that used to be Balla's Steak House (and Sports Bar & Grill, the Great Lakes Fish House, 1st & Ten Sports Bar and Rib City Grill before that).
"I'm excited about the additions coming in nearby. We're looking forward to being in Largo for a long time," said Fred Hurley, who owns the place with his wife, Sandra. They chose this area for their new venture because of its population density.
Missouri Mart: There's a freshly paved parking lot at this strip mall that houses small storefronts midway between Rosery and Belleair roads.
"We're trying to spiffy everything up. We've been putting in quite a few additional tenants, and hopefully we'll be able to continue doing that," said property manager Ken Gasbarro. "The key has been to adjust the rents to make it affordable for these small businesses."
The "haunted house:" A gray-colored two-story building at 1751 Missouri remains painted like a haunted house, with gargoyles and vampires. It's been vacant since 2007, when a couple tried to open a Halloween-themed business but got shut down by code violations.
Property records list its owner as Helene Urbin, the female half of that couple. Two years of taxes are due on it, and a foreclosure suit has been filed, according to public records.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.