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Tax talk slows art center plans

Published May 4, 2007


LARGO - City officials say they are still interested in creating a visual arts center in downtown Largo that would offer educational classes and studio space to artists.

But commissioners unanimously agreed to hold off on any new plans because of uncertainty over proposals in the Legislature that could limit property tax revenues collected by local governments.

The city's recreation, parks and art department had suggested a vacant building at 508 West Bay Drive as a possible site.

"We liked what we saw, but at this time we're not ready to act, " Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier said last Thursday.

The building on West Bay Drive once housed Largo Quick Print. The city bought the property in March and intends to market it and conjoining properties to a private developer. City officials have said they envision a mix of residences and businesses in the area.

The vacant two-story building has an open floor plan and large windows on the ground level. The second floor has space for three small studios that the city could rent to artists.

Largo officials estimate it would cost $102, 000 to remodel the facility, $45, 000 for annual operating expenses and another $82, 000 to staff the center.

Several commissioners said they thought the highly visible downtown location was perfect, but that hiring extra staff was out of the question with the possibility of budget cuts looming.

"I would not want us to move forward with something at this moment and then have to make some cuts right at the start of the project, " Commissioner Rodney Woods said.

Previously, city commissioners had considered a plan to create a combined community center and arts facility in the old library at Largo Central Park.

That plan was scrapped when commissioners voted to demolish the old building, citing a hefty $5.28-million price tag for renovations.

Mayor Pat Gerard was out of town when the City Commission discussed the project during a work session. But later she agreed with her colleagues. Gerard said she would love to see an arts center in downtown, but that the budget uncertainty meant that maintaining existing services must take precedence over new projects.

Proposals pending in Tallahassee could force local governments to roll back property tax rates. In response, many local officials are bracing themselves and looking for opportunities to save money.

"Money is everything right now, " Gerard said. "We're going to have to make some tough decisions, I think."

[Last modified May 3, 2007, 22:54:20]

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