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    City begins talks to buy gas station property

    The price is high, Largo officials say, but combining the land with the old police station site nearby could make it more attractive to developers.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 15, 2002


    LARGO -- For many it is just the gas station on the corner, a place to fill the tank, get directions and grab a soda.

    But the Mobil station at East Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue may hold a greater value to Largo. City officials see it as a key in the city's vision of downtown redevelopment.

    That's because the land sits directly west of the old Police Department property, and the city has been trying to sell those 3 acres for nearly two years.

    If the city could add the gas station land to its police station site, that could sweeten the deal for potential developers. But City Manager Steve Stanton said the owner of the gas station property wants $1.5-million for less than an acre.

    "That's extremely expensive," said Stanton, who estimates it to be worth nearly half that amount.

    Nonetheless, negotiations have begun.

    "Whenever the city gets involved, the value becomes inflated," said Stanton. "We have to divulge our own interest and information, and that puts us at a competitive disadvantage."

    Stanton said the city will weigh the cost against its potential for future development.

    Adding the corner lot would improve visibility and make the site more attractive to entertainment businesses, matching the city's "Main Street" vision along Bay Drive.

    "If money weren't an issue, it would be the best thing that could happen," said Michael Schweiger, a broker with Dutter Realty hired by Largo to negotiate a potential deal. "I would take that whole section and make it what Largo wants it to be: a cornerstone to all the future redevelopment the city wants to happen."

    Schweiger has talked with developers representing restaurants and a hotel with 100 possible rooms. The commission has also proposed selling 1.7 acres to Hospice of Florida Suncoast, directly east of the police station property. Hospice wants to expand and add more parking.

    But Schweiger said he and Ghassan Mansour, the property owner, have only started negotiating the price. If they move forward, he would have to consider cleanup costs, which could be as high as $200,000.

    Such talk is still premature, he cautioned.

    "Right now, we are only asking if the property is available," Schweiger said. "If it fits with Largo's plans, we'd move forward and talk. That's where it is."

    -- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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