LARGO — There was going to be an amphitheater, a plaza with a fountain and public art, and apartments atop retail stores. There was going to be a five-story parking garage, a grand staircase, and festivals and concerts to bring crowds to Largo Towne Center, the roughly $150 million retail/residential hub that city officials dreamed of replacing the Crossroads Mall, formerly the Bay Area Outlet Mall.
Oh, yeah, and there was probably going to be a Walmart in there somewhere, too.
Those were the plans the City Commission saw in 2007 for the 38.5-acre site at U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Four years later, and in an entirely different economy, all the grandiose trappings are gone. There won't be a fountain, an amphitheater or any festivals.
There will, however, be a Walmart, city officials have confirmed.
Walmart is in discussions to build a supercenter on the now-vacant property, Largo Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said. She expects Walmart to submit a site plan within the next few weeks, and the store could be built next year.
Stricklin acknowledged that a Walmart isn't exactly what city officials had in mind a few years ago, but she hopes that the new store — Walmart's second in Largo (third if you count its Neighborhood Market grocery store) — could spark growth.
"We've got a very key piece of (land)… that is vacant and nonproductive," Stricklin said. "I think that it will be a very economically positive project, not just for that property but in terms of encouraging investment in surrounding properties."
Stricklin expects Walmart to open a supercenter of roughly 125,000 square feet, down from the 200,000-square-foot stores the chain regularly opened in the mid 2000s. The store and parking lot would take up about 15 acres, leaving more than 20 acres for future development.
Walmart has agreed to make infrastructure improvements to the whole site, Stricklin said, including adding sewer lines and stormwater management systems.
Walmart officials did not respond to a request for comment. A representative of Boulder Venture South, the company that owned the land and planned to build Largo Towne Center, said Wells Fargo now owns the site. Boulder Venture South chief executive Robert Schmidt Jr. was unavailable for comment.
Walmart tried to buy the mall property in 2004 and planned a 208,000-square-foot supercenter, only to have that deal fall through. Boulder Venture bought the land for $26 million in 2005, razed the mall and announced plans for a town center. Snags delayed the project, which was finally approved by the City Commission in March 2008, with construction to start that year. Then the economy crashed.
Wells Fargo and Regions Bank filed a foreclosure suit in February alleging that a Boulder Venture subsidiary owed them more than $20 million. A Wells Fargo representative who has been talking to Stricklin about plans for the land was not available for comment by press time.
The mall site has become an empty field.
Tom Morrissette, president of the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, said any development there is good news for the local economy.
"Times have changed from five years ago. We need some cranes in the sky … It'll be a shot in the arm," he said.
City Commissioners Woody Brown and Robert Murray agreed, while expressing regret the town center plans never became reality. Brown said he hopes Walmart's promise to build the infrastructure could lead to more development. So does Mayor Pat Gerard, who also hopes that the dreams of a town center could be resurrected years down the road.
"It's a good thing," Gerard said of a new Walmart. "Certainly not the ultimate dream, but in this economy, I guess we are happy anything is happening out there."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.