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    Lowe's wants to build in Largo

    The home improvement chain moves forward with plans for a store at Ulmerton and Ridge roads.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 7, 2002

    LARGO -- A vacant supermarket, an empty parking lot and a few surviving small businesses along Largo's busiest road may vanish in the months ahead, making way for one of the nation's largest retail chains.

    Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse plans to take over the corner at Ulmerton and Ridge roads and bring a 136,000-square-foot store to Largo.

    City officials are reviewing a final site plan submitted by the major retailer and expect construction to begin by January.

    "At this point, it's just cleaning it up," said Clay Sweger, a planner in Largo's community development department. "Just some minor details with parking and landscaping."

    In the community and at City Hall, many welcome the idea of having the second-largest home improvement chain replace a dilapidated Kash n' Karry that has been closed for more than five years.

    The store will bring hundreds of new jobs and erase an eyesore frequented by squatters, drifters and crime. The adjacent Regal mobile home park welcomes the new neighbor, hoping it will drive down home invasions and burglaries.

    But to make way for progress, a few small businesses will have to clear out.

    Mark Weber has spent six months looking for a place to relocate Your Pizza Shop, a fast-food restaurant he has operated out of the shopping center for more than nine years.

    He has found room above the pro shop at Pine Crest Golf Course at 1200 Eighth Ave. SW. He plans to move Sept. 16, one day after his other lease expires.

    "It's not like I can focus on the business itself," said Weber of the time he has spent searching for a new location. "I had to focus on where the business would be. It's a big relief to find a place and know I can move on."

    One business owner who's not ready to start packing is Stu Leiberman. He has leased the property for Washing Well, a full-service laundry and dry cleaners, until April 2004.

    "Last I heard, everyone else is moving out," said Leiberman. "I'll be here."

    Leiberman said representatives of the $22-billion retailer made him an unacceptable offer in December to buy him out of his lease. He has yet to hear from them again, but said it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to move his equipment, which includes 38 coin-operated washing machines and 26 dryers.

    "I said, "I'll see you in a couple years,"' said Leiberman. "They said, "We'll build around you.' I said, "You can't cut off Kash n' Karry. I get my power from there."'

    Jim Robertson, the Lowe's representative working with the city, could not be reached for comment.

    Sweger said the settlement is between Leiberman and Lowe's. He has heard Lowe's talk about breaking ground as early as September.

    "I think ideally they would like to start in the fall," Sweger said. "That's their goal. It still remains to be seen if they will meet that goal, but that's their target time."

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