Proposed Largo memorial to go beyond honoring MLK

Published May 5, 2007

LARGO - After four years of on-again, off-again discussion, city staffers are heading back to the drawing board on the design of a proposed memorial honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During a work session Tuesday night, city Commissioner Gigi Arntzen proposed that the memorial also recognize other "great Americans, " such as Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.

"I thought we needed to find a way to honor as many people as possible, and my concern is if we build a plaza for one person, we are going to have people come forward and say 'I want you to build a memorial for someone else,'" Arntzen said.

The memorial project was revived several months ago when Commissioner Rodney Woods requested a work session to reconsider the stalled project.

In 2003, Woods was a member of the committee formed by the city to create the memorial. At that time, committee members considered linking the memorial to the old library, which was to be renovated but has since been demolished.

"We wanted to make the old library into a community center and outside, facing (Largo) Central Park, we would have a courtyard there where you could have a monument or a pulpit" for speakers, said Wanda McCawthan, another member of the original committee.

McCawthan said she was disappointed to learn that the city was considering expanding the focus of the memorial to include other honorees.

"They don't have anything in Largo that's for Martin Luther King. Every other city in the country does," McCawthan said. "Largo is way behind the times here."

Woods also expressed his disappointment but said he was willing to compromise on the design.

Woods said that honoring Dr. King would send a message that "We really are about everybody (in Largo)."

The original plan called for a granite podium to symbolize King's role as a powerful orator, a community drinking fountain to represent unity, and plaques inscribed with quotes from the slain civil rights leader. A bridge over a reflecting pool would lead visitors from the park to the plaza.

The new plan still includes the podium and inscribed pavers, but commissioners cited cost as factor in scaling down the design to eliminate the water feature.

That pleased Largo resident Martha Gibson, who asked commissioners to "keep the cost down" on the memorial.

"Largo has some lovely things, but lovely costs," she said.

Cost has been an issue. The original committee estimated the cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Earlier this year, the city earmarked $250, 000 for the project in its capital improvements budget, but commissioners agreed that was too much. Before any revisions, the new plan is estimated to cost about $84,000.

How the names of the "great Americans" would be chosen is still under consideration, said Joan Byrne, Largo's recreation, parks and arts director.

"We'll put some ideas on paper and let (the commission) respond," she said.

Commissioner Mary Gray Black suggested that the city offer civic groups and individuals the option to buy the inscribed plaques to help defray the cost.

Asked on Wednesday whether anyone's name should be eligible - whether, for example, someone should be able to pay to put fired Largo City Manager Steve Stanton's name on the wall - Black said the City Commission should have the final say on what names are included.

Arntzen said she would like to see the community, including schoolchildren, involved in selecting the names of those who have made a positive impact on the country and the city of Largo.

"The plaza can still be in honor of Dr. King, with a great American wall behind it," Arntzen said.