LARGO — Last year, a consultant identified the 400 block on the north side of West Bay Drive as the prime location for a new City Hall. The city, however, needed to purchase six properties in order to clear the way for its proposed $51 million headquarters.
City administration had reached a deal with five of those properties by early January for $1.44 million, but there was one holdout.
On Feb. 2, city commissioners agreed to pay $1.4 million — more than $1 million above market value — for the final piece of the block.
The 4,320-square-foot parcel at 400 W. Bay Drive, which is owned by West Bay Plaza LLC, has an appraised value of $395,000 and was bought in 2018 for $325,000, according to records from the Property Appraiser’s Office.
It also is the home of three businesses, Stitches and More Bridal, Posh Interiors and Design, and Express Lunch and Catering Co.
“We have had a lot of questions from the tenants regarding their status moving forward,” City Manager Henry Schubert said. “We have communicated to them through our Realtor that it would be our intent to allow them to remain in their existing storefronts through the end of this year.”
He added that the existing leases with the tenants would be converted to month-by-month agreements, and the city would negotiate “fair and reasonable” leases for monthly payments.
“It’s also obviously in our best interests to keep those storefronts as long as possible,” he said.
On Jan. 5, commissioners approved paying $1.44 million to purchase the other five properties it needed on the 400 block. Those five properties have a market value of $623,122 and are also the home of businesses, including Rib Shack BBQ, that will have to find new homes next year.
Schubert previously told Tampa Bay Newspapers that the city’s Realtor would be willing to assist any of the tenants in their search for a new location and there are vacancies downtown.
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 an 80,000-square-foot 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.
The land purchases are not a done deal yet, though.
The city has until April 2 to conduct its due diligence on the properties and aims to close no later than May 10. All of the agreements, Schubert said, include a contingency that the city must simultaneously close on the purchase of all the properties.
“The new City Hall will be a major economic boost for the downtown, provide a modern work environment for our employees, and be a source of pride for our residents,” Schubert said last month.