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    A Times Editorial

    Now Largo residents can say 'Yes!' to library dream


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 9, 2002

    So much that is exciting for Largo lies just around the corner. It is time for residents who want to be a part of the change to get involved.

    Last week the city unveiled conceptual drawings of the new library that will be built in Largo Central Park. What a community gathering place it promises to be, with a cafe, a children's reading room overlooking a landscaped pond, a soundproofed teen room with study booths and (most important) a stereo system, plenty of space for the library's books, patrons and staff, plus lots of windows and outdoor seating to take advantage of the new library's setting in Largo Central Park.

    But there is more.

    At the June 18 City Commission meeting, a development company, Hyde Park Builders, is scheduled to unveil its $15-million plan to purchase the old city hall site downtown and build townhomes and retail shops there. City officials as well as people in the business community believe that if this plan is approved, the project could be the spark that ignites redevelopment of the many empty lots and aging buildings downtown.

    It is not surprising that Hyde Park Builders is seeking some concessions from the city and waiver of fees to take on the risk of building the first big project downtown. City commissioners face an important decision about how much to concede.

    These two projects alone could bring more change to Largo's central core than it has seen in a long time, and could create two more reasons -- in addition to the presence of Largo Central Park and its cultural center -- for people to visit the downtown area.

    But this is Largo, so a lot can happen between now and then. In fact, people who have not followed every moment of the debate over whether to build a new library might have been surprised to read the headline in this paper Wednesday: City says yes to building library.

    They might ask, Didn't the City Commission vote to build a new library in the park more than a year ago, in March 2001? Yes, it did. And didn't it hire the architects last December? It did.

    But in Largo, "yes" doesn't always mean "yes." What it too often has meant is, "We'll say yes today, but tomorrow we might debate it some more."

    A majority of the current City Commission seems inclined to put a stop to that. By 6-1 votes, commissioners last week hired a construction manager, completed changes to the contract with the architect, and approved spending the money for the two contracts. They turned away a last-minute effort by Commissioner Marty Shelby that would have prolonged the debate indefinitely.

    Shelby wanted the contract votes delayed until after June 18, when he plans to call for a citywide referendum on whether to build the library. Shelby, who has referred to himself as a supporter of the new library, seems unwilling to accept that a majority of the commission already has approved the project and strongly supports it.

    Mayor Bob Jackson, who has been criticized for not showing enough leadership on city issues and for allowing commission meetings to become painfully circuitous, was a new man Tuesday. When Shelby strayed from the business on the agenda, Jackson yanked him back, even pounding his gavel when Shelby wouldn't stay in line. But Jackson was at his best as an advocate for the library project.

    "We can always find reasons not to do it," he said. "But we ought to find reasons to do it."

    He noted, correctly, that going to a referendum would not solve the city's problem: an undersized, overcrowded library that can't properly serve its current patrons, much less new residents who will swell the city's population in the next decade. Jackson knows that the commissioners were elected to make decisions, even tough ones, and that it is the responsibility of the commission to solve the library problem.

    Jackson has been worried about whether the public will step up to donate money for the project. While the vast majority of the cost will be paid through Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds, the city will rely on fundraisers and donations for part of the $22-million cost.

    Jackson's concern is understandable. After all, Largo residents have demonstrated a general apathy on public issues, and support for the new library is not universal.

    But now that there is a conceptual drawing of the library, now that construction contracts have been signed and budgets amended, now that a strong majority of the City Commission is solidly behind building the project, surely residents who love libraries and appreciate their value as community institutions will get on board.

    There is much to be done. People from youngsters through senior citizens should stop by the city library or call City Hall to find out how they can help to make the dream of a fine new library for Largo a reality.

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