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Largo to put 5 acres on market, some at a loss

LARGO — Two pieces of land — the former site of the Largo Hotel along West Bay Drive and the former site of a Stepping Stone transition home just off Clearwater-Largo Road — have a few things in common:

• They've been cleared. Just grass and trees remain.

• They're owned by the city, which plans to put them back on the market this year.

• They're worth an eye-popping amount less than what the city paid for them.

The city bought the old Largo Hotel in 2006 for $775,000. The 0.32-acre property's 2010 just market value was $94,201, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office.

Largo bought the 0.86-acre Stepping Stone property, which used to house homeless families, for $850,000 in 2007. That land is worth $249,900 today.

Despite the nearly $1.3 million devaluation of those lots, the city is moving forward with a plan to put them back on the market as part of its redevelopment efforts along West Bay Drive. The Largo Hotel and Stepping Stone land is part of 5.1 acres the city staff is preparing to market to private developers over the next few years, with the hopes that new residential and commercial development will complement the smattering of shops and eateries already open along West Bay Drive.

Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager, presented a proposed strategy for the land to the City Commission on Tuesday. While some commissioners were not thrilled with the potential losses on some of the land, the commission approved the overall direction of the strategy.

"Nobody's getting what they paid for property anymore. We're no different," Mayor Pat Gerard said late last week. "But if we could actually get a nice development going in and get downtown growing a bit, it would be worth it."

Staffers grouped 27 parcels the city had acquired along West Bay over the years (some as far back as 1953) into five sites. The city originally paid a total of $3.36 million for the land (some land was donated). Today the 5.1 acres is worth $2.83 million.

Some of the land gained value over the years, offsetting some of the drop in value in the Stepping Stone and Largo Hotel parcels.

Both the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce and O'Houston's Irish Pub are on city land that could be redeveloped. Whether either would have to move depends on what developers and the City Commission ultimately decide to do with the land.

The city staff plans to put the Largo Hotel and Stepping Stone land on the market this year with the help of a commercial real estate broker. Brydon thinks the Stepping Stone site could be marketed for multifamily development, like townhomes, while the old Largo Hotel land could host offices.

The other properties, grouped together over a few blocks, might need city help such as roadwork to get developers interested, Brydon told the commission. The city would put out requests for proposals in 2012 and 2013 for public-private partnerships to develop that land — a process that, ideally, would allow the City Commission to choose from a selection of developers.

"It's like a beauty contest," Brydon explained of the public-private partnership model. "They (developers) get to come in and show you their best ways of developing those sites."

Any money spent on improvements to the land would come from the West Bay Community Redevelopment Agency.

Gerard and other commissioners initially balked last week at putting the Stepping Stone and Largo Hotel land back on the market in 2011, given the potential losses.

"Taxpayers take a beating like that, they'll be after us with pitchforks and torches, and justifiably so," Commissioner Curtis Holmes said.

But Brydon said later that breaking even is not always possible with Community Redevelopment Agency land deals.

"You might break even, but more often you will not. This process allows you to get it (blighted property) into private development and back on the tax rolls with a better product," she said.

Brydon will be back before the commission, probably in September, to talk in more detail about what commissioners want to see on the land.

Of course, all of this depends on interested developers, which are not prevalent at the moment. City Manager Mac Craig was asked by commissioners Tuesday if anyone has contacted the city recently with interest in the West Bay Drive land.

"We've had (interest) in the past, but it's been a while," Craig said. "I'm not aware of anyone that's shown up recently."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo to put 5 acres on market, some at a loss 06/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2011 4:41pm]
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