After seeing a presentation of the developer's latest plan for the Largo Towne Center, most city leaders lamented Tuesday that the much-anticipated project may not be much of a town center after all.
"To me, it's just another Largo Mall or Clearwater Mall setup," City Commissioner Robert Murray said at the commission's work session.
"As someone responsible for the vision and dreams of this city, what we're seeing on paper is not what we were hoping for," said City Commissioner Rodney Woods.
Boulder Venture South LLC, the developer of the project at Roosevelt Boulevard and U.S. 19, said the economy has dashed its plans for a walkable mega-development with homes, offices, trendy restaurants, funky shops and a public gathering plaza.
Its latest site plan has 326,000 square feet of retail, including two large anchor stores, 50,000 square feet of office space and two large parking lots. The plan no longer has homes or a public plaza. And most of the restaurants and small shops have been eliminated as well.
Robert Schmidt Jr., chief executive of Boulder Venture, says the plans are a work in progress.
"In this market, we're just trying to find something that works for everybody," Schmidt said.
Largo understands that, Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said Tuesday. But the city still wants to work with Boulder Venture to create opportunities to maintain some design features of the original plan.
For example, the initial concept included a series of small shops along walkways, creating a walkable shopping and entertainment center. The city has suggested developing the site in phases so smaller shops near walkways could be added later.
While most commissioners pushed for maintaining the city's vision, Mary Gray Black said Largo shouldn't interfere in the plans of a private developer.
Woods said working with the developer isn't about taking away its rights.
"We still have a responsibility to put the best facility that we can there," Woods said.
Earlier this year, Schmidt said his company was struggling to get financing. It had a commitment from two major anchors, but it was having difficulty luring boutiques, coffee shops and tenants in general.
Stricklin said the project could still become a destination, even if the city doesn't get everything it hoped for early on.
"I'm confident in the long term, with a different tenant mix," she said, "that we can meet their needs and the city's objectives."