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    Park site for new library gains support

    That location would create a "civic complex,'' some say. Others say using the old City Hall site would preserve green space.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


    LARGO -- City commissioners moved closer Tuesday to choosing Largo Central Park as the location for the city's new library.

    At a work session, architect John Toppe presented site plans for the library in the park and on the site of the former City Hall.

    Although Toppe said he was not there to recommend any of the locations, he made a strong argument for the park site.

    The vacated City Hall site of about 8 acres is too small to accommodate any future expansion, Toppe said. He pointed out that a two-story library in the park would be visible to drivers on East Bay Drive. Toppe also noted that by building the library near the Largo Cultural Center, which also is in the park, the city could create an area that would draw scores of people to downtown Largo.

    "This becomes a real civic complex," he said.

    Although most of the commissioners seemed convinced, Pat Burke was not. Burke argued that there is not great community support for a new library, citing a recent St. Petersburg Times poll that found Largo residents were divided on the idea. She also pointed out that half of the people who visit the library are not Largo residents.

    "I still say we shouldn't take away the only green space we have left and pave it," she said.

    Pinellas County commissioners should foot much of the cost for a new library, Burke said. At a minimum, the county should help find another site, she said, mentioning several vacant properties along Ulmerton Road.

    City Manager Steven Stanton said Largo will seek funds for the project, which Toppe estimated would cost at least $17-million, from the Pinellas Public Library Consortium.

    Commissioners will vote on the location at next week's commission meeting.

    At that meeting, the commissioners also will decide whether to sell the old police department headquarters to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast or wait for an offer from developers.

    Hospice has expressed interest in the property since May 1999, when city officials asked for bids on it. Hospice, which provides care for the terminally ill, wanted to construct a two-building, two-story complex on the property that would serve its clients and have space for a bookstore, boutique, art gallery, conference center and coffee shop.

    Stanton was concerned that the hospice would not bring more people to downtown Largo and persuaded commissioners to hold off on selling the property to the non-profit.

    City officials received a letter from the hospice on Tuesday saying it still would like to buy the land, which is about 115,000 square feet and is appraised by the city at $955,000.

    Although commissioners think the hospice provides an important community service, they were divided on selling the property to the non-profit organization.

    "I think it's wise to sit back and see if somebody comes up to the table and says, "This is my idea for the parcel,' " said Commissioner Mary Laurance.

    Mayor Bob Jackson disagreed, suggesting that, aside from the hospice, there is little interest in the site. "The fact is four years ago, we made a decision to vacate that piece of property," the mayor said. "That property has been on the market for four years."

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