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    334 apartments may replace stores

    A developer proposes the complex, including affordable housing, for the failing Belleair Place shopping center site.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 22, 2002

    LARGO -- A West Palm Beach developer intends to purchase a half-empty shopping center along Clearwater-Largo Road and put 334 apartments in its place.

    City officials said the Richman Group of Florida has a contract pending to buy the Belleair Place shopping center, where an empty Winn-Dixie is now surrounded by a few businesses.

    Todd Fabbri, an assistant vice president for the group, has submitted a site plan to the city calling for 334 apartments in four-story buildings on the 13-acre site south of Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The plan also calls for approximately 12,000 square feet of commercial space.

    Fabbri, who could not be reached for comment, had presented a similar plan in Hernando County this year. The development company runs affordable apartment complexes in Miami, Naples and Panama City.

    City Manager Steven Stanton said the apartments would fill a void for affordable housing in Largo.

    "We can continue discussing and lamenting the fact that that shopping center was never a success, and continue to try and get Winn-Dixies to come back," Stanton said. "Or we can look at what the city's needs are today."

    Should the Largo project be approved, the plan would be built in two phases and could begin as early as next summer. That would add 74 one-bedroom, 192 two-bedroom and 68 three-bedroom apartments to the city's growing downtown redevelopment area.

    City planner Rich Cannone said 40 percent of the apartments would be leased at affordable housing rates. The developer would receive low-interest loans through the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County.

    A one-bedroom apartment might cost slightly more than $500. The same apartment would be leased for $650 a month at a market rate.

    The apartments would be located in the proposed redevelopment zone, an area expected to change in the next two months.

    Commissioners are scheduled to review amendments tonight at a work session at City Hall. Among them is a plan to increase density in some parts up to 24 units per acre. That would clear the way for more apartments and townhomes.

    Stanton and Cannone said the Richman Group was interested before learning about the changes.

    Cannone said three other developers have since inquired about purchasing the shopping center.

    "They were looking," Cannone said. "But it really started getting shopped around when they saw the density going up."

    -- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or .

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