LARGO — When a new Hilton hotel opens across the street from Largo Mall next summer, hungry visitors won’t have to travel far for a burger, fries or wings.
In fact, they won’t even have to cross the street, because the same project that is currently under construction at 10125 Ulmerton Road also will include a Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Wingstop restaurants.
“We’re almost completely fully leased,” said Christian Yepes, vice president of development for the Pinellas Park-based Belleair Development Group, on Aug. 23.
Yepes said the project, which includes two retail buildings in the front and a Home2 Suites by Hilton in the back section of the roughly 4-acre property, will also feature Club Pilates and an auto parts store. One retail space is still available.
The five-story hotel with 118 rooms is a joint partnership between BDG, Sarasota-based Floridays Development Co. and Butson Hotels, a family-owned business based in Vermont that has owned and managed a portfolio of hotels in northern New England for over a decade.
Home2 Suites by Hilton is an all-suite, extended-stay hotel that targets budget-conscious travelers, according to its website.
“We are targeting late summer next year for a completion date on the hotel and then early spring for completion of the retail,” Yepes said.
The property was once the home of an Achieva Credit Union branch, which was demolished and sold to BDG. The firm then sold the back half of the property for $2.1 million on March 13, paving the way for the joint venture partnership, but retained ownership of the front half that will feature the retail space.
Yepes said feedback he has received from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve spoken to many residents both on site and certainly in the community, as I live here locally, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and people are excited to see something done with a very old and underutilized property to bring some life into that area,” he said.
When the project began, the property was part of unincorporated Pinellas County, but the city annexed it in June.
“There were some advantages to annexing into the city of Largo, and we’ve enjoyed a great working relationship with the city and we’d like to continue doing that,” Yepes said, adding that the firm has also worked with the city recently on multifamily and retail developments.
City officials hope the group’s project will be a glimpse of the future for Largo, which is home to only five of Pinellas County’s 413 hotels.
On Aug. 20, city commissioners approved on first reading an ordinance that would amend the city’s Comprehensive Development Code in an effort to expand the land-use classifications where hotels are allowed.
“Currently, we depend on the Pinellas County land development code for standards for hotels. This proposed amendment would establish our own standards, and, additionally, expand where hotels could be built,” Planning Manager Rick Perez said. “We believe that will make us more competitive for hotel development projects and aid our annexation strategy overall.”
While most hotels focus on beach tourism, Perez said Largo has an opportunity to cater to business professionals, citing the city’s two business parks and proximity to two airports.
“These are areas where we incentivize high-wage, high-skill manufacturing, research and development-type employment, and believe that hotels in this area would complement some of the large businesses … as well as business park centers that includes Bay Vista and the ICOT Center,” he said.
Yepes said residents shouldn’t expect hotels to pop up around the city, but agrees that there are some areas where opportunities exist, including his own site.
“I don’t think that Largo is going to be a hotbed of new hotel development,” he said. “But I think there are a few key places where hotels could be successful. Mainly, across the street from Largo Mall is one location with access to the beach. So we felt it was appropriate for this location. I would not say that you should sprinkle hotels all over Largo.”
Commissioners will vote on the changes a second and final time Tuesday, Sept. 3.