Size: 90,000 square feet. Project will include Largo’s City Hall, as well as 18,00 square feet of retail
Builder: Biltmore Construction Co.
Architect: ASD | Sky
While the new development going up on West Bay Drive in Largo is officially known as Horizon West Bay, the nearly $81 million project is really going to be the new city hall building for the city of Largo.
But this is not going to be the classic city hall like you’ll see in Philadelphia nor the utilitarian monstrosity in Richmond, Virginia. What’s being built in Largo is a modern five story mixed-use development in the city’s downtown that, along with space for the administration to do its work, will include 18,000 square feet of retail space envisioned for restaurants, microbreweries and boutiques.
There will also be a five-story parking garage, as well as indoor and outdoor public meeting space with landscaping and hardscape amenities to draw visitors, according to city plans.
The retail space will be on the first floor along with Largo City Commission chambers.
“It will be very, very active right in the middle of our downtown, so we’re really excited about that,” says Largo Mayor Woody Brown.
Bringing more life to the city’s downtown district is a big part of why the development was first suggested and approved.
The decision follows the city’s strategic plan and decades of work to bring life back to an area that, in all fairness, you may not even know was downtown unless you were looking at a map that told you as much.
Largo government used to be in the district but left its old city hall building in 2000. The property is now a townhouse complex.
The city’s offices were moved to a former financial services building on Highland Avenue where they remain today. The building was built in the 1970s and is need of deferred maintenance and repairs that could run into the millions.
Given the state of the building and the strategic plan, a few years back the city commissioners made the decision to move.
“It was ironic that the city government left downtown at the same time as we were encouraging private investment in the area,” Henry Schubert, Largo’s city manager said at a commission meeting in August.
As of early November, an official groundbreaking has been held, demolition of the site has been completed and the detours are in place. Crews are now working on sidewalk removal along West Bay Drive as well as setting up a full-site construction fence and doing site and utility work.
The plan is for the work to be complete in late 2024. “I am convinced that this is this the right project at the right time for our city,” says Schubert, who sees West Bay Horizon as a catalyst for a walkable downtown and “a true renaissance in our community’s history.”
What’s being built in Largo is not a standard multi-use facility that’s going to be impersonal and out of date before the foundation settles. What the city and its architects, designers and engineers have in mind is something altogether different, a place that is both appealing to the eye and conscious of the people inside and out.
“It will be a shining example of our commitment to sustainability and resilience, quality construction and outstanding architecture,” says Schubert.
The design of the building emphasizes sustainability, including roof-mounted solar panels, reclaimed water features, rainwater harvesting and electric vehicle charging stations.
The project’s lead architect, John Curran, told city commissioners in August that one of the main design features is daylight harvesting.
“Our goal throughout the project was to figure out a way to make sure that we maximize daylight in the building,” Curran said. “So down the center of the building, we call it the green corridor, there is a skylight that actually infuses daylight into the building and allows the center portion of the building to get as much light as possible.”
The hope is to minimize the use of and need for manmade lighting. And, like with all the other features, to reduce costs.
The city believes the design features will earn Horizon West Bay LEED certification. To that end, even though construction has barely begun, the plan has already been recognized for sustainability: the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay awarded the project its Sustainability Award this year.
Curran, in a statement announcing the award, called the project “an expression of smart design that will allow the City of Largo to save money and educate their citizens on the benefits of sustainability principles.”
For the city’s hopes to be fully realized, the retail portion of the project will need to work. And that will take time.
Colliers, the real estate firm hired to lease the space, says it has seen some seen some early interest in the property from prospective tenants.
The leasing plan calls for restaurants or microbrewery type tenants to move into the space facing the inner courtyard. More traditional smaller tenants, an ice cream shop or boutique, would take the space facing the street.
The firm believes it will be able to charge in the mid-$20-per square foot range, meaning the city will see between $400,000 and $500,000 per year when the project is fully realized, the firm says.
But the questions that can only be answered over time is, how long will it take for the space to be fully leased and what happens if the expected downtown boom never comes to fruition?
One positive sign that there will be said boom? A 277-unit multifamily project is under construction across from the future city hall.
Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.