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Officials want to add pizazz at downtown site

Amid fears that Hospice of the Florida Suncoast might leave town, commissioners look for ways to make a tract on East Bay Drive more attractive.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


LARGO -- Last year, the city didn't want to sell its police headquarters site to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

The feeling around City Hall was that the company didn't fit in with the city's downtown redevelopment plans.

But fearing its stance may push one of the city's biggest employers out of Largo, city commissioners on Tuesday night asked the staff to come up with a land-use plan for the site that would be more attractive to developers like Hospice.

"I think we need to encourage non-profits to stay, especially when they've been such good partners," said Commissioner Pat Gerard.

The non-profit, which now operates in a building one block east of the recently closed police headquarters on East Bay Drive, has said it needs more space.

Last week, Mayor Bob Jackson met with Hospice officials amid whispers that if it does not find a larger space in Largo, the organization may leave town.

"We're going to lose them," said Commissioner Jean Halvorsen.

Hospice was the only company to bid on the site last year. The organization proposed a two-building, two-story complex totaling 23,500 square feet. The buildings would include a coffeehouse, specialty bookstore, gift boutique, art gallery and conference center.

But instead of accepting the bid, commissioners decided to go back to the drawing board.

City officials said Hospice was not the type of business they wanted to see in the former headquarters at 100 East Bay Drive. They envisioned a restaurant or a similar business, something that would keep visitors downtown after an afternoon in Largo Central Park or shopping along West Bay Drive.

"Unfortunately, the type of use is not consistent with the long-term strategy that people will want to stay (downtown) after they leave the park," said Community Development Director Ric Goss.

So city staffers proposed a plan to request bids on the site next month. Uses would be limited to commercial, entertainment and recreational -- categories that city staffers felt Hospice would not meet.

But Tuesday, Commissioner Pat Burke said the city was "misleading" Hospice by saying it wants the non-profit to stay in Largo but also saying it doesn't fit in with the city's plans for downtown.

Hospice officials did not attend the commission meeting.

Commissioner Harriet Crozier suggested the city wait six months to ask for bids and look into purchasing the gas station at the corner of East Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue. Once developers see the widening of West Bay Drive, they may want to buy not only the police department property, but also the Mobil gas station next door.

Other commissioners agreed with Crozier, asking staffers to look into every option before selling the property.

"We are so close to something so exciting," said Commissioner Mary Laurance. "I don't want to rush. Maybe, we're going a little bit too fast."

-Information from Times files was used in this report.

Pupils study history firsthand

Children accustomed to modern conveniences learn to churn butter and sew samplers. They also find time for old-fashioned fun.

By JULIANNE WU

LARGO -- While other children stirred homemade lemonade, Aaron Blades beat a rug outside the Lowe House on Tuesday at Heritage Village

Aaron, 9, of Largo was one of about 80 children from Bay Pines Lutheran School, Wellington School and the Pinellas Christian Homeschoolers who participated in the opening day of Living History Week at the 21-acre historical park in Largo.

Just for the day, the youngsters dressed up in pioneer costumes and sampled a bit of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They took turns churning butter, sewing samplers, hoeing the garden, learning old-time dances and playing traditional games such as rolling hoops, marbles and jump rope.

"This is fun to do once," said Aaron, a fourth-grader at Bay Pines Lutheran in Seminole, as he beat the carpet to clean it. "But on a daily basis, it would be kind of hard."

He said he does the dishes and cleans his room at home. "And sometimes, I vacuum, too."

Just then, a parent volunteer, Susan Valind, walked over for a glass of lemonade.

Valind of Seminole was with her son, Zachary, 8, a Bay Pines Lutheran third-grader. "This is the eighth year I've participated," said Valind, who has had two other children participate in Living History Week other years. "Each year, our children look forward to this day. It's a neat tradition."

A few doors away, members of the Pinellas Christian Homeschoolers had taken over the McMullen-Coachman Log House. Thought to be the oldest existing structure in Pinellas County, its foundation was laid in 1841 by Capt. James Paramore McMullen. It has been added onto several times.

While some boys tossed bean bags in the yard, girls churned butter on the porch.

But Nick Colarusso, 11, of Clearwater had the toughest job: making ice cream.

"We're making vanilla ice cream, but our ice cream maker is half-broken, so it's harder," said Nick, a sixth-grader, who was accompanied by his mom and teacher, Deborah Colarusso.

"It's kind of fun to do this, but I'd rather buy ice cream," Nick added.

Meanwhile, at the Moore House (built in 1879 by George Washington Moore), youngsters from Wellington School squeezed lemons or churned butter. Some of the boys opted for a game of marbles instead.

In the side yard, several children jumped rope.

As she waited for her turn, Casey Willis, 9, of Gulfport, squirmed in her dark blue dress, black apron and dark blue bonnet.

"This is a real Amish dress," said Casey, a third-grader at Wellington School in St. Petersburg. "It belongs to a friend of my grandmother. And, it's a little hot."

But, Casey soon forgot how warm she was. "We learned in school about Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote Little House on the Prairie) and that the girls jumped rope then, too.

"I really like learning history, but I think I like things as they are now . . . better," she said.

Other schools scheduled to participate in Living History Week, which runs from 10 a.m. to noon today through Friday, include St. Jude's and St. Patrick's Catholic Schools, Leila Davis, McMullen-Booth and Sawgrass elementary schools and several other homeschoolers' groups.

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