NEW PORT RICHEY – A planned apartment complex along Orange Lake that’s been in the works for a couple years took another step in the right direction last week.

New Port Richey-based developer People Places, LLC and city officials hosted a groundbreaking last week to announce the first phase of development on the apartment complex, The Central, will begin this month.

The Jan. 28 ceremony was held at a vacant, grassy lot on the corner of Circle Boulevard and Central Avenue. That’s where a portion of the envisioned lakeside complex will be erected.

The city bought the land from the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey in 2005 for $3.1 million after the congregation relocated to its current home, on Trouble Creek Road. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency bought the land overlooking Orange Lake in anticipation of a downtown development surge that was short-circuited by the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession.

The CRA spent years trying to recoup its investment in the property. It sold the land for some $300,000 in 2016 to People Places, LLC founder Frank Starkey. In 2017, the city changed the zoning on the 2.8 parcel to allow the construction of the apartment complex.

Frank Starkey is not related to City Councilman Jeff Starkey. Frank Starkey and brother Jay B. “Trey” Starkey III developed the Trinity-area community Longleaf.

According to a pre-groundbreaking press release, the multibuilding development will contain more than 80 of what People Places calls “luxury residences for those seeking a more urban lifestyle.”

People Places, which is headquartered on Main Street, intends to create a residential living area that is different from a typical apartment complex. The buildings will each be three stories tall and have a “mansion” appearance that fits in with and enhances the neighborhood.

Each building will contain four to six individual apartments accessed by a single gated entry and stair hall. The People Places press release states that spaces between the buildings are being designed as a series of outdoor “rooms” containing amenities for residents while also being aesthetically pleasing.

Central Avenue bisects the project and will get wider sidewalks, street trees and a tree-lined median.

The press release states that architect Eric Brown is designing the buildings “with a nod to classic Southern architecture, spacious floor plans, high-ceilings and high-quality interior finishes.”

Last week’s groundbreaking marked the beginning on Phase 1 and the apartments will be built in two phases. The first phase is along Central Avenue and will include 42 1- and 2-bedroom apartments in seven buildings. This area includes a pavilion and outdoor grill in a live oak-canopied courtyard overlooking Orange Lake.

Work on the $7.3 million Phase 1 will begin in February and expects to be completed sometime in 2020.

Details on Phase 2 were not provided.