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New hotel brings hope for progress

The $8-million Hampton Inn & Suites is across East Bay Drive from Largo Central Park.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published December 28, 2005


LARGO - Downtown Largo's first brand-name hotel opened its doors last Tuesday, another signal that the city's multimillion investment in its historic core might be paying dividends.

The city, which has improved streets and other public spaces downtown, hopes the $8-million Hampton Inn & Suites will pull in other businesses, helping downtown again become a destination.

"I think they're going to do well and we'll see new investments in the area," Mayor Bob Jackson said. "Other people will look at that and say "It's not a backward town anymore. Largo has something to offer."'

But progress won't be easy, Jackson said. "Downtown is hard nut to crack," he said.

The 92-room hotel, across East Bay Drive from Largo Central Park, was developed by BayStar Hotel Group of Tampa, which owns and manages it. BayStar chief executive officer and chairman George Glover said he was attracted to Largo because it was home. "I grew up in Largo and started working at 12 at my father's theater (the Largo Theatre), two blocks from the hotel," said Glover, 57.

Glover contacted Jackson in 2003 after Pinellas hotel developer Marc Menna decided not to build a hotel on the property, which is the former site of Largo's police headquarters.

A feasibility study produced results not as "robust" as Glover would have liked. "But knowing the area," he said, "I thought it could be a prosperous enterprise."

The Hampton Inn is expected to accommodate business travelers as well as tourists, said Paul Alfama, assistant general manager.

"The beach is 2 miles away and a lot of those hotels have closed," he said.

Hotel rooms are decorated in neutrals and modern prints and have granite counter tops and dark wood furnishings. The landscaping includes plants matching those at the park across the street.

BayStar Hotel Group recently opened a Hampton Inn & Suites off Interstate 4 in east Tampa. It has been involved in nine hotels in Florida as builder, operator or consultant.

Downtown Largo has seen little major development other than West Bay Village, a $12-million housing and retail project that opened in phases on the south side of Bay Drive in recent years. That project, built by Hyde Park Builders based in Tampa, was heralded as the first big step in downtown's revitalization effort.

Largo spent about $18-million widening and improving West Bay Drive, the main street through downtown. The city also supported the new Hampton Inn by waiving about $130,000 in city fees and selling the police property for $800,000.

The 2.6-acre site was appraised at about $1.3-million, officials said.

Now City Manager Steve Stanton wonders whether other private sector business owners will invest in downtown.

"Hopefully the development community would do it without city participation," Stanton said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com

LARGO'S NEWHAMPTON INN

65 standard rooms, $129 per night

27 suites, $149 per night

No restaurant or bar

Breakfast bar included

Free high-speed Internet in all rooms

[Last modified December 28, 2005, 00:37:18]


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