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New apartment complex renews hope for downtown Largo
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Photo by CHRIS GEORGE
The newly opened 158 Ridge Apartment Homes, which features 29 market-rate units, is the first housing complex to open in downtown Largo since 2000.
LARGO – After nearly a decade of work to develop a long-vacant property, city officials hope the end of an apartment complex’s construction leads to a new beginning for downtown Largo.

On Oct. 6, representatives from the city and project gathered to cut the ribbon on the newly opened 158 Ridge Apartment Homes, a contemporary community of 29 urban loft-style units in the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment District.

The 30,000-square-foot facility features one- and two-bedroom homes with walk-in closets, in-unit washers and dryers, stainless steel appliances, outdoor balconies, an outdoor barbecue, lounge area and gated access. Rent ranges from $1,160 to 1,700.

“When we created the community redevelopment district, it gave us the ability to go in and help underwrite the project that 158 Ridge is representing,” said Teresa Brydon, the city’s economic development manager. “Now, we have a beautiful 29-unit market-rate apartment complex in the downtown core. I think what it offers and what it brings is something that we haven’t seen in downtown in a very, very long time.”

The $4 million facility is the first new multifamily complex in downtown since the West Bay Village townhomes just blocks away opened in 2000, and it has taken considerable time and money to make it happen.

A gain from a loss

The property at 158 Ridge Road NW was the site of a transitional housing facility known as Stepping Stone for more than two decades until the city purchased it for $850,000 from Religious Community Services in 2007 in the hopes of developing it.

Because it was a nonprofit, Brydon, who wasn’t working for the city at the time, said she thinks officials purchased the property, which had a market value of $781,100, for an elevated cost to be considerate to RCS.

In late 2007, the Great Recession began to wreak havoc on Largo’s property values, and the site was no exception. By 2009, the value was appraised at $249,900.

It remained vacant – and off the property tax rolls – until the city decided to cut its losses in 2015 and sell it for $109,000 to developer Indrid Agaj, who said the price was one of the key reasons he decided to take a risk in the redevelopment district.

“They understood what it took to take a risk like this, so the land price reflected that,” he said. “So the numbers finally made sense businesswise, and I can see a future here.”

He also noticed the city had been spending a lot of money on infrastructure downtown, including improvements to the light fixtures, landscaping, and street and curb feel.

“I appreciate those investments and I see that the base has been laid,” he said.

Agaj said seven units have already been leased, but he’s optimistic about the rest because the area has more than 5,000 workers at places such as Largo Medical Center and the Pinellas County School Board.

Sweetening the deal

Incentives were another reason Agaj found the property attractive.

When the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment District Plan was introduced in 2009, Brydon said the city underwent a philosophical change on the way it spent funds in the area. Instead of purchasing properties like it had done in the past, she said the plan was to work with developers and find ways, such as incentives, to entice them to take a risk.

So, in 2015, city leaders for the first time approved using a newly established Housing Infill grant, which provided $8,000 for each unit for a total of $232,000.

“It really made the deal,” Agaj said. “It was teetering on the edge of not making sense financially as far as the rent that I was forecasting that I was going to get versus the high cost of construction. … That kind of pushed it over the edge as far as profitability and making sense of the investment.”

Since the property will be returning to the tax rolls, Brydon said the city is expected to recoup the cost of the incentives in about seven years. But the city will make money as long as the building is there, she added.

“(Agaj) was what I call a pioneer in coming into our market, so we need to work with those developers who want to take on that challenge and help us redevelop our downtown,” she said.

That redevelopment includes other projects Brydon is excited about, such as West Bay Lofts, a mixed-use development proposed for the 500 and 600 blocks of West Bay Drive.

“There’s going to be a lot going on in the next two to three years,” she said.
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