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Largo sees influx of business growth
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LARGO – The economy within the city of Largo is showing signs of gradual improvement, especially within its redevelopment areas.

“We’re excited to see new development along Clearwater-Largo Road. I think it’s indicative of the economy picking up,” said Karisa Rojas-Norton, economic development program planner for the city. “There’s just a lot of activity going on in the area.”

In the past months, several new businesses have opened up along Clearwater-Largo Road, north of East Bay Drive. The area is designated as a community redevelopment district, designed to encourage a pedestrian-friendly commercial corridor. The district also incorporates affordable housing, allowing residents to potentially live near their place of work.

The Clearwater-Largo Road district is different in character from the development the city of Largo is trying to encourage along West Bay Drive, explained Economic Development Manager Teresa Brydon.

“We consider both of them ‘downtown.’ We call them the greater downtown market,” she said.

But the larger buildings of West Bay Drive don’t fit into the character of Clearwater-Largo Road, she said. Similarly, the city isn’t encouraging affordable housing along East Bay Drive.

Over the years, the city has invested at least $3.8 million in improvements to the district in order to encourage business growth. That investment is beginning to pay off.

“I think businesses are attracted to our improved streetscaping,” Rojas-Norton said. “Pedestrian-friendly areas are attractive and desirable.”

She added that staff always tries to work with businesses to help them understand the city’s goals.

“We’re pleased to see that they want to locate to our downtown area,” she said.

The high-density residential piece of the puzzle also is falling into place. Bayside Court, an apartment complex at 1760 Clearwater-Largo Road, finished construction last year, creating a potential new customer base for new businesses.

“I think you’re going to see new businesses in that area because we now have more density due to the apartment complex,” Rojas-Norton said.

Retailers also are attracted to the area based on high traffic counts, she added. Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization calculates an average daily trip of 43,500 cars at West Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue.

Restaurants that have recently opened include Salt n Pepper Bistro, Sage’s West Bay Bistro and Mama Faraone’s. Island Breeze will be opening soon. New businesses that opened last year are La Chic Salon and Spa, Couture’d New and Resale Boutique and Xtra Medium Productions.

Aside from increases to the redevelopment area, the city is experiencing an overall improvement in business growth. According to city reports, Largo has seen 98 new businesses in just the first quarter of fiscal year 2013, which started in October, compared to 345 new businesses during the entire year prior. During the same quarter, the city has approved the permits for $45.3 million worth in construction projects, already 40 percent of the value created during the entirety of fiscal year 2012.

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