LARGO — The big vacant lot has tall grass, an assortment of oaks and pines, a bit of crumbling blacktop, and what seems like a billion dragonflies.
The city is selling the nearly 1-acre lot at 158 Ridge Road near the northeast corner of Clearwater-Largo Road and West Bay Drive in its ongoing effort to revitalize downtown.
The parcel is one of several pieces of city-owned land that Largo has put on the market, hoping that new residential and commercial development will complement the smattering of shops and eateries already open along that section of West Bay Drive.
"Our goal is to get these properties into the hands of developers who are going to bring projects to our downtown," said Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager.
Commissioners voted last week to accept an offer from Urban Edge Development, which will pay $144,000 for the property — about a sixth of what Largo paid for it.
The company plans to build a modern, 24-unit apartment complex at the site, which is just north of the aging Oak Alley Apartments on West Bay.
The market-rate apartments are to be two-bedroom, two-bathroom units with open floor plans and high ceilings. The hope is that the new apartments will attract tenants from nearby employment hubs including the Pinellas County School District headquarters and Largo Medical Center.
The property is the former site of the Stepping Stone house for the homeless. The city bought it in 2007 for $850,000 and demolished the blighted structures on it. The city put it on the market last year, seeking $249,000.
The city's downtown holdings consist of 27 parcels acquired over the years — some as far back as 1953. The city has divided it into five sites.
When Brydon came to city commissioners in 2011 with a strategy for selling the West Bay land, several expressed dismay at the money Largo would lose on the properties. Brydon agreed she wished the land had higher values, but added that the point of community redevelopment is not to make money, but to make vacant land productive.
Business leaders are pleased that private developers are finally showing interest in the city's land.
"I'm happy to hear about that Ridge Road property. The interest in this area is growing," said Tom Morrissette, president of the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. "The goal is to make downtown more of an urban center, a destination."
The city's next priority downtown is to sell a full city block that it owns on the north side of the 500 block of West Bay Drive, next to the Barley Mow Brewing Co., which was formerly O'Houston's restaurant. The city bought the 1.14 acres in separate purchases in 2006 and 2007 for a combined $2.45 million.
The city is seeking a developer who will build a mixed-used project there — a blend of residential and commercial space, Brydon said.
These sites are part of a city strategy years in the making to get 5 acres of underproductive city-owned land along West Bay developed with active storefronts, offices or homes.
The city also owns the site of the former Largo Hotel near Seminole Boulevard and West Bay Drive. The crumbling 99-year-old building was demolished in 2007. Largo also owns the site of the old Community Center at 65 Fourth St. NW.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151.