From left, Ed O’Houston, Joseph Stefko and Chris O’Houston plant The Old Northwest flag and sign on the empty lot on Fifth Avenue Northwest.
LARGO – Green space, flowers and vegetables.
That’s what Joseph Stefko and the business owners in “The Old Northwest” section of Largo foresee for an open lot on West Bay Drive.
“The landscaping looks lovely and it will help freshen up the look of this part of town,” Stefko said.
Thanks to The Largo Housing Division, the recent movement of The Perkins House, and cooperation from the city’s parks department, the corner of Fifth Avenue North- west and West Bay will soon be a “city garden” with plots for citizens to plant vegetables and flowers.
“It will even be accessible for wheelchairs. I’ve even got businesses such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot to help,” Stefko said.
Teresa Brydon, Largo economic development manager, said the lot became available when it became apparent that the Perkins house was still in good repair and could be moved rather than demolished. It sits a short distance away.
“It is being rehabbed and will be sold to a first time home buyer by the end of the year. The city helps with financing and other issues. It’s a win situation and we saved a historic house,” she said. “The Old Northwest group is an excellent example of business people coming together as a grass roots group to help improve their community. They make my job easier. Eventually the open lot will revert to the city and be sold for development.”
Often called “The mayor of Old Northwest,” Stefko is considered the inspiration and the driving force behind the area.
The owner of “The Hair Jungle,” he turned his house into a salon a few years back. Quickly he realized that the business community in the area needed to band together for identity and prosperity.
“A lot of business owners in this area are younger entrepreneurs willing to take a chance. They spend a lot of time and energy in their businesses and don’t always know how to avoid the pitfalls of running a business and aren’t aware of city and county rules and regulations and codes. Our group meets regularly (usually on Mondays at 6:30 p.m.) at one of the Old Northwest business locations.”
Michael Brandt and Anthony Jack recently opened their Cajun restaurant, “Gulfcoast Po’Boys” in Old Northwest.
“We found this area online,” Jack said. “We chose Largo because it’s affordable and once we got here we found Joseph. He’s like the mayor of this area. He’s been very helpful and a great guide.”
O’Houston’s Irish Pub is a business that was thriving before Old Northwest was officially a “location.”
But, according to owners Chris and Ed O’Houston, the designation of a special district has really helped business.
“A lot of people don’t know about this part of town,” said Chris. “It has already helped increase business and patrons and we (business owners and residents) all network and help each other.”
What’s next for the Old Northwest? Stefko wants to join with other area business communities to expand awareness.
“I was just asked to join the Belleair Bluffs Merchants Association and I go to city council meetings and am a member of the Community Redevelopment Advisory Board.”
He added that he expects the vegetable and flower garden at the lot on Fifth Avenue Northwest to begin blooming soon thanks to volunteers and help from local businesses and the Old Northwest group is working on possible events to bring customers and business owners into the area.