Almost three years ago, city leaders embraced the idea of a walkable community with stores, restaurants and homes at Roosevelt Boulevard and U.S. 19.
Now city commissioners have given their initial approval to a development agreement for the Largo Towne Center.
The 20-year agreement outlines obligations for both the city and the developers, Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors and Clearwater-based Boulder Venture South LLC.
For example, the developers must create and maintain a public plaza for city events and provide a bus transfer site operated and maintained by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
In return for the plaza and other amenities, the city would credit the developer $3.1-million toward its parkland dedication and facility fees.
Without any credits, the project's impact fees would be expected to exceed $6-million.
The project also would receive credits for building the bus transfer facility. But officials don't know the size of those credits because they have to figure out what the eligible expenses will be first, said Community Development Director Carol Stricklin.
The city has agreed to hold 12 community events at the plaza each year. Largo plans to budget $40,000 annually to staff and run the events.
The city made that commitment to help ensure the success of the project, Stricklin said.
At a meeting last week, City Commissioner Mary Gray Black said she was concerned about that type of expenditure at a "shopping mall."
But Vice Mayor Andy Guyette said he thought it was money well-spent, especially since the city expects to receive about $365,000 in annual property tax revenue from the project.
"I see a lot of value with bringing people into this area," Guyette said.
And Commissioner Harriet Crozier said the project wasn't a "mall" at all.
"I call it a town center," she said. "I think there's a definite distinction between the two."
With an estimated cost of more than $150-million, the project will bring the community $85-million in sales and 850 new jobs, said Lynn Dehlinger, regional director of new development for Weingarten.
Plans for the pedestrian-friendly center include about 260 homes called the Lofts at Largo Towne Center, offices, shops, entertainment and restaurants with outdoor cafe seating.
Another public hearing for the development agreement is scheduled for March 18.
Originally proposed in 2005, the project has had its share of setbacks.
Shortly after the project was announced, the developers opposed a proposal submitted by a pool retailer to build its headquarters next door. The parties worked out that matter, but then the developers had to pitch their plans to city staff and satisfy traffic mitigation issues with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Later this year, project partners plan to break ground. Utilities could be laid this spring, and project construction could be complete within two years.
"One of the major anchors hopes to be in business for Christmas," said City Manager Mac Craig.
Project developers are mum on what businesses will go in the center's 645,000 square feet. Weingarten won't be able to announce tenants until leases are signed in a couple of months, Dehlinger said.
City officials say they've heard rumblings about possible tenants, but say the names seem to change from month to month.
Dick's Sporting Goods may be in the mix and possibly Wal-Mart and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Craig said. Crozier said she'd also heard talk about JCPenney at the center.
City leaders say the project will attract other developers to Largo and revitalize the community as a whole.
"I think it's going to be the spark we need for some economic boom," Crozier said. "I just see so many possibilities."