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Digital art might line old library's walls

A committee floats ideas about using the empty building for a mix of technology, culture and education.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published January 14, 2006


LARGO - A committee brainstorming the future of the city's old library building says it might someday be a leader in cutting edge art.

The group, formed by the city last year, thinks the building could be the perfect hub for digital art and other creative pursuits that involve technology.

"If the city can come up with something innovative and make it readily available, I think without a doubt they'll have a very successful concept," said Jay Goulde, executive director of the Outdoor Arts Foundation and a member of the group.

The committee, which comprises about 15 residents, educators, merchants and art professionals, has explored a range of possibilities, including digital photography, performing arts and a place for the public to purchase art.

Committee Chairman Kathy Feaster said the group isn't ruling out an intergenerational component where children and seniors could work alongside each other. The team is also considering ideas from a teen focus group, which suggested an area devoted to recording studios where people could mix their own tracks, she said.

With 36,000 square feet to fill, the building may even house a cafe, which could complement the art center, said Henry Schubert, assistant city manager.

Committee member Peter Kageyama, who runs a public relations and marketing group, said the city might be wise to pursue a commercial use, fashioning the center after the Media Centre in Huddersfield, England, which houses a variety of creative professionals in media, digital arts, design and other enterprises.

Largo's facility could be a cultural destination, he said, and still serve the public with a gallery and public meeting rooms.

Renovations will be necessary, but Feaster said the committee hasn't had a chance to speculate on what those improvements might cost.

Even with a public purpose, the group thinks the facility could sustain itself and even make money.

The group agreed that the center shouldn't follow the path of traditional art centers and compete with such facilities, according to committee member Bruce McManus.

"Several of us think if we are seriously committed to a digital application for the facility, we could get some significant grants and contributions from individuals and technology-based companies," McManus said.

The building at 351 East Bay Drive has been empty since the new library opened last summer. In 2005, the city paid $30,000 to study alternative uses for the building, and the consultant, Herbert Halback Inc. of Orlando, found that residents wanted the city to keep the building and use it in a way that complements Largo Central Park.

Five months ago, city commissioners decided they wanted the building to focus on arts and education and formed a committee that would make recommendations.

The group will explore the issue for a few more months and will present a report to the commission in April.

The future of the library ultimately depends on the City Commission, Feaster said.

"We could bulldoze it and put a sculpture park there. It depends on the commission and how fast they want to turn a profit," Feaster said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorri@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 14, 2006, 01:38:14]


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