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City leaders to consider 2 key projects

City commissioners take their seats at City Hall tonight to consider two important deals defining Largo's future.

But moving ahead with plans to bring alive a foundering downtown could demand tough concessions, not only from the city but from two landmark institutions that helped shape Largo's past.

In one case, that means shrinking Ulmer Park by more than 30 percent so a Tampa builder can have enough room to put up a commercial center with townhomes expected to sell for about $200,000 each.

In the other case, it could mean asking Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, a major player in town and one of the state's most visible community nonprofit groups, to forgo expanding its administrative headquarters along East Bay Drive to make way for a four-story hotel and restaurant.

Whatever commissioners decide in the weeks ahead, the process begins at a 5 p.m. work session at City Hall, 201 Highland Ave., where commissioners are scheduled to discuss one clearly defined agreement and one conceptual offer.

The condo/retail project:

Squeezing Ulmer Park

Hyde Park Builders has offered to pay $1,084,401 for the 8 acres south of West Bay Drive where the old City Hall once stood. That's slightly more than half the $1.9-million appraised value. The Tampa builder wants to turn it into a residential community with 54 townhomes and 24,000 square feet of commercial space.

The city is considering throwing in incentives that include waiving building permits and impact fees; paying for sewer lines; and accelerating work to put power lines underground, install street lamps and place decorative bricks in the streets.

All that would be done because Hyde Park Builders has agreed to take a chance by investing in Largo and would build what the city wants on an established schedule. The project would consist of three phases, and the developer would acquire the land for each phase at a different time. Once the developer had the land, each phase would have to be completed within 24 months of the acquisition.

To be certain they get what is being promised, city officials have included a repurchase agreement in the contract. Hyde Park would have to have active building permits or certificates of occupancy at all times. If Hyde Park failed to keep to the schedule, the city could buy back some or all of the property.

One obstacle throughout the process has been what to do with Ulmer Park, which was dedicated to the city years ago by one of Largo's original families.

After several residents opposed sale of the property and a former descendant of the benefactor threatened legal action, the city acquiesced and set aside three-quarters of an acre for green space, oaks and benches.

But an oversight in the need for drainage means that the park's size will shrink to only half an acre. The original size could be accommodated only if the city chooses to shrink the commercial space to 16,000 square feet.

Mary Taylor Hancock, whose grandparents donated the land to Largo, said she's not pleased with the news, but has accepted it gracefully.

"I'm disappointed they will not do what they said they would do," she said. "(But) I've seen the plans, and I like the plans."

If no objections surface tonight, the commission would vote on the sale and development agreement on Aug. 6.

The hotel project:

Negotiations with hospice

Perhaps more complicated would be how to handle a second piece of city-owned property down the road at East Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue. A developer whose identity the city will not reveal has offered to buy the 2.6 acres that used to be Largo's police station and bring in a hotel and restaurant.

Plans submitted to the city by a real estate broker for the unnamed developer show a four-story hotel with 96 rooms. City Manager Steven Stanton has said Marriott and Hilton are among those interested.

But, according to the concept presented to the city, that project can happen only if the developer gets the entire property at a price of $750,000.

That may be tough. Commissioners previously promised to sell a little more than an acre of the police headquarters site to hospice for $318,000, the appraised value in 2000. Hospice wants to expand its administrative headquarters by adding a second building and more parking.

Stanton has said he will recommend commissioners offer the property hospice wants to the organization for $420,000, the value that a new appraisal put on the property, or to consider selling it all to the developer. In that case, city officials would ask hospice to consider another site.

Representatives from hospice plan to attend tonight's work session and have said they hope there is room for negotiation.

If left with only 1.49 acres, the developer has offered $500,000 but would build a more modest hotel.

One way out is for the commission to purchase a Citgo gas station on the corner. But to do that, city officials would have to authorize spending $1.485-million, plus cover the cost of cleaning up the land under the gas station. That would make room for the hotel, but the city would have to underwrite nearly the entire cost of the gas station.

_ Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or sandlersptimes.com.

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