LARGO — The new Bridge Dance Complex in downtown Largo is bustling with activity and vibrant young faces.
City officials hope that atmosphere will translate to the rest of West Bay Drive as they prepare for a series of projects they say will revitalize the area by making it more attractive, walkable and safer.
The projects will be showcased Wednesday, Aug. 21, as part of an open house that coincides with the studio’s grand opening.
“We’re hoping that this catapults the rest of the city to … keep growing, and this can be like the center of it all,” said Tara Lynn DiSalvo, owner of the 10,000-square-foot complex at 100 First Ave. SW.
Since 2015, the Indian Rocks Beach resident has owned the West Florida Dance Company just blocks away on the south side of West Bay Drive. But it didn’t take long for her to realize she was going to need more space to cater to her 300 students.
“We were busting at the seams, so we decided to try to find a piece of property that we could move into,” the mother of two daughters said.
What she found was the site of the former Largo Hotel, which she purchased from the city in 2016 for $50,000. The city had bought the property in 2010 for $775,000 at the height of a spending spree for land, but it was never developed and had been vacant and off the tax rolls.
City commissioners’s faith in DiSalvo, however, made the sale easier to swallow, they said.
DiSalvo said the new name, The Bridge, reflects not only the complex’s architecture, which features a pair of two-story buildings connected by a walkway on the second floor, but also her belief that performing arts can take students to the next stage of their career or life.
West Bay Drive improvements
City officials also hope The Bridge will be the perfect setting to highlight the next stage of their plans for West Bay Drive, which includes a $500,000 plaza and a $2.9 million project to repair the road and sidewalks from Missouri Avenue/Seminole Boulevard to Clearwater-Largo Road; replace the lighting; install updated benches, bike racks and bus shelters; construct two midblock crossings with pedestrian-activated flashing beacons; and improve the diagonal parking lots from Fourth Street Southwest to Ridge Road.
“The main purpose of this meeting is to communicate final design details of the improvements and construction logistical details to the community,” wrote senior engineer Barry Westmark, who is organizing the open house, in an email to Tampa Bay Newspapers.
Westmark said city staff and representatives from the engineering design firm and contractor will be attending the event.
He added that construction is tentatively scheduled to start the first full week in October, and the plan thus far is to leave one lane of West Bay Drive in each direction open during the mill and resurface operation.
DiSalvo said the parking and accessibility improvements are desperately needed, pointing out that there’s no crosswalks from her studio to Central Park.
“Once they (city officials) make everything a little more interconnected, I think it will make a big difference to businesses,” she said.
She said the improvements all fit in with her vision to make the complex more inviting to residents of all ages and not just competitive dancers.
“I want it to be a staple,” she said. “I want it to be part of the community and they know this is where they should go.”