It's been a long road to vision of MLK plaza

Published July 24, 2007

Look at this. Largo may actually build a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ¶ After talking for five years and taking several detours that called their dedication to the whole idea into question, Largo commissioners have a consensus on the type of memorial they want and where it will be located.

Earlier this month the commission decided on a 700-square-foot paved plaza that would include famous quotes from speeches by the civil rights icon. A granite-accented lectern with King's likeness engraved on it would stand at the center of the plaza, which would be bordered by flowers.

The plaza will be built on the east side of Largo Central Park, and is expected to cost about $60,000.

That is a much more reasonable figure than the more than $200,000 price tag slapped on the project by former Largo City Manager Steve Stanton earlier this year. Both the memorial's size and price now seem more in scale with the community and its budget.

The new plan incorporates some of the ideas and concerns of a volunteer committee the city appointed in 2003 to study ways to honor King. Though their recommendations were submitted and their job finished in 2003, some committee members have stayed engaged on the issue - which perhaps warrants some sort of memorial to their dedication.

Earlier this year, Commissioner Rodney Woods urged his colleagues to get the project back on track, pointing out that some people in the area had become convinced that city commissioners weren't interested in honoring King's memory.

The commission started talking about it, but the proposal was sidetracked again after Commissioner Gigi Arntzen expressed discomfort with a memorial that honored just one person and suggested that it honor other "great Americans."

Arntzen said she was worried that "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.' "

Fortunately, others who understood the importance of honoring King prevailed, and Joan Byrne, the city's Recreation, Parks and Arts director, was able to present the commission with a memorial plan that focused, as was originally intended, on King and his legacy to the nation.

The project's funding still must survive city budget talks that are continuing through the summer, but it appears that the commission now understands how important it is for Largo to erect a properly respectful and affordable memorial without further delay.