It’s possible, in a blink of an eye, to drive through the town of St. Leo without even knowing it.
Town leaders are looking to change that.
They are planning to create a town center that will provide a shopping, entertainment, event and community district, on a site at the corner of State Road 52 and Lemon Street.
Town leaders hope the new town center will help make St. Leo more of a destination rather than just a drive-thru town.
“This is about having a space that will give an identity to this town,” said St. Leo Mayor Vincent D’Ambrosio, who assumed that role in May 2022. “We just don’t have that now. This will change that and still honor everything this town is about.”
The St. Leo Town Commission voted 5-0 on Feb. 14 to move forward with building the town center in Pasco County’s oldest incorporated municipality.
During a community workshop, residents who attended, as well as the town commission — D’Ambrosio; Donna DeWitt, O.S.B.; James Hallett, O.S.B; Curtis Dwyer; and William Hamilton — were presented a Planned Unit Development from Twelfth Street Studio and Aurora Civil Engineering.
The architecture and design firm and engineering firm, respectively, laid out a very comprehensive concept plan that would feature shops and vendors, an entertainment area, an event area, recreational space and more.
The town center would go on some unused land, but also take over property used by On Q Smokehouse Grill and A Cup of Organic, two businesses not only in support of the town center, but the first two confirmed tenants as vendors.
The next step is rezoning the town center property to be a Planned Unit Development.
Town Administrator and Clerk Andrea Calvert told the crowd of more than 120, including Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley, that the town center will be “a very big revenue generator.”
She also noted it is being funded by the recently extended Penny For Pasco tax, which passed in the local elections.
Calvert told The Laker/Lutz News there isn’t a town center project cost yet, but the town’s officials “can work on what needs to be included in the initial phase and what that cost will be, as well as pursuing grants and other funding opportunities.”
St. Leo Town Planner Tom Asburn agreed, saying the town center will give “St. Leo a new identity, while enhancing development, but also keeping the rural character we all love very much.”
The town center will include a history center and several gardens, each dedicated to a different part of St. Leo, such as the Abbey and the town’s founders.
Several details are still being worked out, such as an underground stormwater system for food and beverage vendors, overflow parking and enough sidewalks so Saint Leo University students can walk the less than a mile to the town center location.
The consulting two firms and St. Leo also are working with the Florida Department of Transportation to refigure the intersection of State Road 52, College Avenue and Pompanic Street. The plan is to reconstruct a now-complicated intersection into a more traffic-friendly roundabout.
The meeting was held in a boardroom at Saint Leo University’s Student Community Center to accommodate the crowd.
Despite the large attendance, there was very little, if any, opposition to the project.
In addition to town residents, several students were at the meeting, including some representing Saint Leo University student government.
They spoke of “nothing being here (in St. Leo) but the university” and wanting the town to “be a town” and “be more than just a university and something to go visit and enjoy.”
Longtime area resident Betty Burke noted: “There is no meeting place for the community. As long as we can consider making it eco-friendly, like solar-powered, then it would be a great place where the people of St. Leo can meet.”
Others agreed, while saying it would give the town an identity, just like the commission wants.
“This is exciting,” resident Greg Smith said. “This will be the image of the town because a lot of people don’t know we even exist. This should be supported fully for the future of the town.”
Commissioners threw their support behind the plan to make St. Leo a place to stop and visit.
“We really did our homework here,” D’Ambrosio told the crowd. “We know that we can maintain the history and feel of St. Leo while still showing the greatness that we know we’re capable of. With a town center, we won’t be a drive-thru town anymore, but a destination that people will want to stop at.
“And now, with this step, the journey to that begins.”
Published February 22, 2023