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    Building of belated drugstore to begin

    Now that tax issues have been settled, the Walgreens planned for the Bel Forest Shopping Center site will start to appear early in 2003.

    By CHRISTINA K. COSDON, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 9, 2002

    LARGO -- After more than a year of delays, construction of a new Walgreens at the southeast corner of Indian Rocks Road and West Bay Drive will begin right after the New Year.

    Site preparation will include bulldozing the Bel Forest Shopping Center and a long-abandoned Mobil station.

    "The project is totally permitted," said Owen Ewing, vice president of development of Paradise Group, the Atlanta firm developing the 1.7-acre property. "We're working through some final issues and tenant relocations."

    There were six businesses in the shopping center: Jim's Meat Market, Black Cat catering and gourmet shop, Wine Warehouse, Inspirational Elegance women's apparel, Alexandra Domenique hair salon and JP Nails. All have relocated except the Black Cat and the Wine Warehouse, which will move Jan. 1, Ewing said.

    Five of the businesses will receive some money from Paradise to help with their moving costs. The amount varies according to the size of the business, he said. The total amount to be distributed is $92,500, Ewing said.

    The site preparation also has an environmental angle.

    A dry cleaning store was once located at the south end of the shopping center, and Paradise will clean up any ground contamination.

    It will take most of 2003 to build the new store. Ewing said it should open by the end of the year.

    A Walgreens has been been in the Bluffs shopping center since April 1985 and occupies 12,970 square feet. The new 14,490-square-foot store will be fashioned after the company's latest freestanding models in the more visible location across the street from the Bluffs.

    There has been a major glitch in the project's progress during the past months: The triangular-shaped property sits in both Largo and Belleair Bluffs, and the issue has been how the two cities will be taxed.

    "It's a rare occasion when a building is in two cities," said Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine. "And nobody knew the answer to the tax issues."

    The matter eventually was settled by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office.

    "Whatever property is in Largo, Largo will be taxed on; and whatever property is in Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Bluffs will be taxed," Arbutine said. The cities were told that the guidelines for such issues were found in state statutes and that they would be followed, he said.

    Nearly 80 percent of the building will be built in Largo. But 60 percent of the property, which will include green space and a parking lot, will be in Belleair Bluffs. Because most of the building will come under Largo's jurisdiction, the city's building and engineering divisions will oversee the required inspections.

    "It's a win for the city of Largo and a substantial benefit to the city of Belleair Bluffs," said Largo City Manager Steve Stanton. "That property has been a blight for both communities for many years."

    The 101-year-old Walgreen Co., based in Deerfield, Ill., has 3,908 stores in 43 states and Puerto Rico; and plans to have 6,000 stores by 2010.

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