LARGO — City commissioners on Jan. 5 approved paying $1.44 million to purchase five properties on the 400 block of West Bay Drive that they hope one day will be the new home of City Hall.
The five properties are owned by two entities and have a market value of $623,122, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office.
City Manager Henry Schubert said discussions are still underway for the purchase of the 400 West Bay Plaza LLC property at the southeast corner of the block.
In September, architectural firm ASD | SKY presented commissioners with preliminary design concepts at three possible locations along West Bay Drive downtown. The highest-ranked location was a full block between Fourth Street Northwest and Fifth Street Northwest on the north side of the heavily trafficked corridor.
Preliminary designs show the site would be home to a five-story project featuring two structures — a parking garage on the west side and City Hall on the east — connected by a canopy with a possible solar array. Between the two buildings would be a public area that incorporates commercial space.
But first the city needed to purchase several properties on the block that included three different private owners.
Matthew York, the public works director and project manager, said in November that the city was budgeting up to $3 million to purchase the properties.
City administration contracted with a broker with Colliers International and has successfully negotiated agreements with the Cole Family Trust in the amount of $450,000 and with three members of the Terepka family for $995,000.
The City Commission’s unanimous approval of the purchases sets in motion a due diligence period for the city to do further evaluation to determine if there are any concerns with the properties, City Manager Henry Schubert said.
“The city would have the opportunity, if concerns were identified, to either back out of these agreements or renegotiate the purchase price with the owners,” he said.
The city, however, still needs to purchase the corner lot on the 400 block and Schubert said it is in negotiations with the owner.
“We are hopeful to have an agreement here in the very near future to bring before the commission,” he said.
He added that the primary issue of contention is the leases with the three tenants that are currently in the building.
“It is our desire that those individuals would be allowed to remain in that building through the end of this calendar year,” he said. “For some reason, the current property owner seems to have a little different perspective on that, so we’re working through that with him.”
If the negotiations fall through, then the city would likely have to look elsewhere to put the proposed $51 million City Hall that it hopes to be completed in 2023.
“One of the provisions in these purchase agreements is that we would require a simultaneous closing on all of the properties,” Schubert said. “So if we are unable to reach an agreement with that last property owner, then we would not want to close on the other two properties. We would back out of the agreements and then we would move on to our second-ranked site downtown.”
The other proposed sites for City Hall were the corner of First Street Northwest and West Bay Drive just west of CVS, and the south side of West Bay Drive just north of Liberty Worship Center at 400 First Ave. SW.
Both of those sites also would require land purchases that would likely be more costly than the ones for the preferred site