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    Firm bids on ex-police station, would like to build restaurant

    Largo commissioners will discuss the offer today, but officials are somewhat skeptical of the proposal.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 11, 2001


    LARGO -- An Atlanta-area company has offered to buy the former Largo police headquarters site from the city for $900,000 and build a restaurant on the property. But city officials are wary about the proposal.

    The offer by Metro Development for the 2.6 acres near the northeast corner of Missouri Avenue and Bay Drive was made last week to Dutter Realty, a real estate company hired by the city two months ago to sell the property.

    But Ric Goss, the city's community development director, said Metro Development likely might combine the city property with a nearby Mobil gas station and build a drugstore as well as a restaurant. Goss based his theory on two factors: Metro Development has a history of building drugstores and the company is willing to pay three times the average asking price for a restaurant site.

    That possibility alarms city officials.

    "I would not want to see a drugstore there because I think there are better uses to that site," Mayor Bob Jackson said.

    City officials have not spoken to Metro Development about its plans for the property. Company officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

    Commissioners will discuss the offer at a 5 p.m. meeting today at City Hall.

    Metro Development is the first company since Hospice of the Florida Suncoast to bid for the land, which is viewed by city leaders as a key piece of Largo's downtown redevelopment efforts.

    The city put the property on the market two years ago, hoping for a development that would draw people to the area. Hospice, whose main service center is a block east of the property, said it desperately needs the additional space. It was the only entity to make an offer.

    Hospice has proposed a two-building, two-story complex totaling 23,500 square feet that would be called the Center for Living and Wellness. The buildings would include a coffeehouse, specialty bookstore, gift boutique, art gallery and conference center.

    But city officials were disappointed they did not get more offers for the property and decided to restart the bid process in October 1999.

    Hospice officials have talked to the city and Dutter Realty about buying all or part of the site.

    "We still see using part or all of it because we could certainly use the expansion space," said Louise Cleary, a Hospice spokeswoman.

    Hospice, one of the city's largest employers, has talked about looking at sites outside the city.

    "It's not anything we would want to do," said Cleary.

    Goss said he would like to work out an arrangement that would include Hospice. He said the site provides enough space for the nonprofit and at least two restaurants.

    "It would be good if we can meet the objectives of keeping Hospice here and having a couple of restaurants," he said. "That would be the ultimate on that site."

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