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Wide way pleases business owners

(ran Beach, Seminole editions)

When it came to redesigning Clearwater-Largo Road, the business people spoke, and Largo leaders listened.

Never mind what their neighbors to the north in Clearwater did.

Largo officials initially proposed following Clearwater's lead on its stretch of the well-traveled road (Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater), reducing the five-lane road to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane.

Although the 3-lane plan for Clearwater-Largo Road between West Bay Drive and Ponce De Leon Boulevard would have allowed for onstreet parking, business owners resisted that move.

Reduced lanes would encourage drivers to seek alternate roads and cut into drive-by traffic, business owners argued.

"If they killed the traffic, that's the one thing we have right now," said Nick Pappas, owner of Grillmarks restaurant. "If you take that away, that is really going to hurt our businesses."

Pappas and the owners of about 10 of the other largest business along the corridor formed the Clearwater-Largo Road Business Group to present a unified front. Without pedestrian traffic, keeping the road at five lanes is critical, Pappas said.

City officials listened. The $1.8-million streetscape plan now proposes keeping all five lanes.

They listened again when business leaders chafed at the proposal to start construction in February. In deference to the busy tourist season, work on the nine-month project will instead be put off until April, when most of the snowbirds will be gone.

"This whole project is for the business owners," said city engineer Todd Bosso. "And we don't want it to (negatively) affect their businesses."

"We are trying to do whatever boost (Clearwater-Largo Road) needs to attract more businesses and people who will patronize those new businesses as well as to patronize the businesses that are already there," he said.

The streetscaping plan calls for 10 island medians with palm trees and other landscaping, similar to the medians along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

"We wanted to break up a big, expansive roadway," Bosso said.

The city also intends to add several bricked mid-block crosswalks, decorative brick bands along the edges of sidewalks and brick walkways at cross streets. Also, they will add ornate, pedestrian-level lights every 10 feet, similar to those now on West Bay Drive.

The ultimate goal is to create a road that is appealing to pedestrians, Bosso said.

The revised plan met with overwhelming community support, particularly among business owners, when it was presented at a community meeting last month.

"We're definitely excited about the plan the city has to fix it," Pappas said. "I think it will beautify the area. And I hope, ultimately, it will attract more businesses to the area and will help make it a destination area.

"Right now, businesses are starting to pop up. Business is starting to improve."

But there are still some bad stretches, Pappas said, including areas with crime-ridden mobile home parks.

"I have no problem with trailer parks, but there are some bad ones along here where there is crime and drugs," he said.