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Largo should explore the sale of its old landfill site: a Times Editorial Board recommendation
Voters get to decide in the Nov. 8 election.
A rendering of the public lagoon proposed as part of a massive recreational facility on an old landfill in Largo.
A rendering of the public lagoon proposed as part of a massive recreational facility on an old landfill in Largo. [ Porter Development ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 6

Largo referendum 2: Selling city property for a potential recreational center — Yes

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations.

Largo’s city charter requires voters to approve the sale of any city-owned property over 1.5 acres. Porter Development wants to turn nearly 88 acres of city-owned land — much of it an old landfill — into a massive recreation center. The proposed $60 million construction project near East Bay Drive and Highland Avenue includes 40 pickleball courts, 16 volleyball courts, eight basketball courts, a fitness center, sprinting track, an e-sports area, a climbing course and a 10-acre public lagoon for swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding. The facility will also have indoor and outdoor meeting spaces.

Porter is a Clearwater-based company that has developed shopping centers, including several anchored by Publix stores. Company owner Les Porter lives near the proposed 170,000-square-foot recreation center, which he called his passion project. His team — from the company that would manage the facility to the environmental project manager — have close ties to Pinellas County. Porter believes the project will turn an old landfill into a facility that will benefit locals while also hosting events that will draw out-of-town teams, which will pump money into the local economy. Moving the site from city-owned to privately owned will also put it on the tax rolls, which will bring in more money for the city. The project’s backers estimate the facility will generate $75 million in economic impact over the first five years.

Related: The Times' recommendations on the other Pinellas County ballot questions.

But before you get too excited — or unexcited — about the project, all this vote will do is allow the city to negotiate with Porter. It does not bind the city to the deal. A “yes” vote will allow the city to sell the property, but it won’t force the city to do so. If the two sides can’t agree on fair market value for the site, either side can walk away. Porter’s team will also have to perform its due diligence on the site, including assessing environmental and safety issues related to building on an old landfill.

Some residents who live near the site have expressed concerns about traffic and noise. Those are legitimate considerations, but they can be worked out. This project has a lot of potential to benefit Largo. It appears to be a good opportunity to develop an old landfill. It’s well worth giving the city the greenlight to negotiate the sale of the property, and allow the developer to determine if the site is suitable for building the recreational facility. If the sale doesn’t work out, the city loses little but some time. But without a “yes” vote the city can’t take the next step forward.

On Largo’s referendum 2 to allow the city to negotiate the sale of the old landfill site, the Times recommends voting Yes.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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