LARGO — For 26 years, the Missing Links Driving Range has been a familiar sight on East Bay Drive, with its ice cream hut, miniature golf course, batting cages and the persistent "thwack" of golf clubs hitting golf balls.
But by the end of next summer, it is set to go away, another victim of market forces. The plan is to replace it with a large RaceTrac gas station and convenience store. The RaceTrac will be across the street from a large Rally gas station and convenience store.
"It's disheartening for me — 26 years is a long time for a business to survive," said Jim Smith of Belleair, who has owned the 8-acre Missing Links Driving Range with William Hancock of Clearwater since 1987.
"My partner William owns the land," Smith said. "It's a business decision for him. It's depressing for me."
Hancock, who bought the property in 1997 for $275,000, could not be reached for comment.
The driving range is on the south side of East Bay Drive at Highland Avenue, next to Everest University and bordering the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve.
Smith and his wife own the ice cream shop, which dispenses soft-serve ice cream in flavors like amaretto, blackberry, rum and tutti frutti.
He said the driving range and its assorted attractions would stay open probably through the end of next summer.
"People have jobs here," said Smith, 63. "We'll be here until the bitter end."
Of the 8.1-acre site, RaceTrac intends to lease 2.4 acres fronting East Bay, according to city documents.
Last week, Largo city commissioners approved a change to the future land use designation of the property, allowing a convenience store to be built there.
Commissioners did so unanimously and largely without comment. They had no legal rationale for opposing the change.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes called the RaceTrac station a "neato project," noting that it would provide a needed gas station on the south side of East Bay.
"If you are on West Bay or East Bay heading east, outside of a Citgo gas station at West Bay and 22nd, you don't get another gas station heading east until you get all the way out to Environmental Services," at Roosevelt Boulevard and 49th Street N, Holmes said. "There's nothing there, which just drives me crazy. There's nowhere to go unless I cross traffic."
No development is currently planned for the remaining 5.7 acres in the rear of the property, which is intersected by a Duke Energy easement, said Katie Cole, a local land use attorney representing RaceTrac.
"Duke Energy power lines actually go right through that property," Cole told commissioners. "There's a big easement there, so it would be kind of difficult to develop there."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151.