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Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
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Largo backs off spending $500,000 to dress up downtown corner

LARGO — City commissioners recently tapped the brakes on a $500,000 downtown plaza project to enhance the triangular property across the street from Largo Central Park on the southwest corner of West Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard.

Planning Manager Richard Perez gave the commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, a status report on the project that would include landscape and hardscape improvements and be a signature gateway element for downtown Largo.

"This project is intended to establish a sense of place, a landmark feature as one travels into or through the heart of our downtown," Perez said, "and it’s intended to include the overall branding elements of the city that have recently been implemented."

He added that the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment District project is beginning the design process at a cost of $65,000 and is funded for construction in 2019 for $435,000.

Mayor Woody Brown agreed that the 0.69-acre property that was once a used car lot could use improvements, but said he was hesitant to spend so much money on it now when it might be better utilized later as a way to connect downtown to Central Park.

"Right now, if you’re going from West Bay Drive, which is an easily walkable area, to Largo Central Park, you have to go through this zone from the railroad tracks to the park that’s uncomfortable to walk. So, I think this triangle might be the mechanism or the tool to get from there to the other side," Brown said, referring to a feature such as an overpass.

He said such a future project would make him hesitant to spend too much time, energy and money on a corner that might ultimately change in order to solve some other problems.

"I know I’ve talked about this before that I’d like to improve it, but improve it with the understanding that this may be a key piece in a bigger picture later on," he added.

Brown said he thinks small improvements, such as a small gazebo, an enhanced bus shelter or new signage, would suffice.

"I think you can get a lot done for much less than what we have budgeted," he said.

Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he would still like to see some designs that consultants come up with, but he agrees with Brown that the project could be scaled down.

"I know that I would definitely like to see something on that corner as an entrance into downtown, but I don’t know that it necessarily has to be a huge project," he said.

He also said investing too much money in this project might end up being a waste because connecting the park to downtown should be a future priority.

"I don’t know how we would ever do that, but if we were to get to that point, it’d be a shame to have a real nice project on there to have to tear it down to put something else on there to try to connect them," he said.

Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said a project to connect downtown to the park, such as an overpass, could be 10 to 15 years away.

In light of the concerns, however, she said she would advise the consultants to create options that require a more reasonable investment.

If the project did continue, Commissioner Curtis Holmes said he would like to bring a piece of the city’s past: the clock tower.

"What I’d like to see there is a smaller version of what we have on all of our street signs," he said, referring to the structure at the corner of East Bay Drive and Seminole Boulevard that was demolished in 2009.

He said the city also could probably solicit private donations to help fund it.

Robinson said the street signs are expected to change and have the city’s new logo on them, so a clock tower isn’t something the city should revisit.

"We can probably just put that in the past and hopefully move away from that," he said.

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