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Former landfill to sports complex: Pinellas developer pitches plan in Largo

Proposed main building of Pinellas County Sports Complex
Posted at 5:46 PM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 07:27:46-04

LARGO, Fla. — Undeveloped land is getting harder to come by in Pinellas County, and now, one developer has his eyes on a former landfill site to transform into a major sports complex.

Les Porter, the owner of Porter Development LLC, has always considered himself an innovator.

“I look for opportunities that others may not see,” he said.

Some of those opportunities include transforming an 87-acre former landfill site near Largo Central Park and the Largo City Library into a major sports tourism destination.

Porter said his vision is to turn the land into three different complexes. The first, a 170,000 sq. foot indoor recreation center with basketball courts, volleyball courts, open floor space and a restaurant. The second facility would be a 10-acre crystal lagoon similar to the one in Wesley Chapel, and the third being a complex with indoor and outdoor pickleball courts.

“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America,” Porter said.

Renderings of pickleball courts at Pinellas County Sports Complex

The goal is to host around 35 sports tournaments a year and bring in an estimated $16 million annual economic impact. Porter’s development company wants to buy the land from the city of Largo and make their vision a reality.

“If we are given this opportunity, we hope to deliver something that everyone around Pinellas County and outside of Pinellas County all over the southeast will come to visit,” Porter said.

Plans for the northern portion of the property would be kept as green space and the project would not interfere with the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, according to Porter. He also plans to put together a detailed traffic analysis looking into how the new development would impact existing roadways.

“We’ll bring the majority of our traffic off of East Bay in hopes we don’t disrupt the surrounding community much at all,” Porter said.

Porter saidthe main access to the proposed sports complex would be via Highland Ave. and East Bay Dr. There are also considerations of adding a roadway along Central Park Dr. directing drivers behind the library’s parking lot.

Developers would also work with state leaders to ensure the land isn’t too toxic to build on. That would include working with brownfield site consultants to remediate the property.

“We would do extensive testing to determine the scale and scope of the land," Porter said. "We also won’t be building any foundations or buildings on trash so we will do excavation where it’s necessary and leave it better than we found it. It’s done more than you think and will improve the quality of the land."

Full map of proposed sports complex in Pinellas County

The land, which served as a landfill more than 30 years ago, used to be the home of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. Now, it is home to the Largo Flying Club. It’s a place where people from around Pinellas County go to fly model airplanes.

Art Brown is a member of the Largo Flying Club and said he would rather see the land stay the way it is.

“It’s just that we love it here, you know?” he said while looking out at the wide open field. “It’s going to be a shame if we lose this.”

Eddy Thomas, another member of the flying club agreed.

“It’s very rare in Pinellas County to have this land, because it’s so congested with houses and businesses," Thomas said. "So, to have a place like this that’s large enough for us to be able to fly, it is amazing."

Porter said if his project comes to fruition, his company would work with the flying club to find a new location.

Largo voters will get a say on the project in November when it appears as a referendum item on the ballot.

Since the land is owned by the city and it is larger than 1.5 acres, city charter requires a referendum approval before the land can be sold or leased. Porter said his company’s plans are preliminary and he plans to spend the next several months meeting with community members and getting their feedback.

Location of proposed Pinellas County Sports Complex

Porter also proposed a similar sports complex in the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg at the former Raytheon site near the mall. That project was dismissed after county leaders decided not to change the land use from its industrial purpose.

Porter said the Largo parcel is different because it is already zoned for recreational purposes.

Porter hopes it will serve as a destination location and a place that will show off all that Largo has to offer.

“It’s huge for me," he said. "As a father of two daughters that were very involved in sports, we traveled all over the country to various gymnastics, cheerleading and various events. Having something that would be able to deliver those experiences in our own backyard is exciting."

If the November ballot item passes, Porter said his company would work out a purchase plan with the city of Largo and they would not require further taxpayer investment to get the project underway.

For more information on the complex, check out their website.

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