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Largo Community Center opens with hustle, bustle

LARGO — Jack Kirkpatrick has been missing his karaoke buddies back in New Jersey since he moved to Florida six months ago. However, the Largo resident described himself as "tickled pink'' after watching a dozen people share a microphone inside Studio D of the new Largo Community Center on Sunday.

"I think they need me to add my voice on a regular basis, so where do I sign up?'' said Kirkpatrick, 69.

"Over there, unfortunately,'' said his wife, Betty, as she pointed to a line of more than 20 people at the front desk.

The Kirkpatricks were part of a big crowd that attended the open house celebration for the center. The $10.5 million facility at 400 Alternate Keene Road, off East Bay Drive, replaces the old center on Fourth Street NW.

The day included entertainment by dancers, a barbershop quartet and about two dozen clowns, as well as demonstrations by painters, sculptors and potters, all courtesy of programs run through the Largo Recreation, Parks and Arts department. About 5,000 curious members of the community showed up, said department director Joan Byrne.

The public unveiling of the center opened a new chapter for the city, said Byrne, who has directed the department for eight years.

"This place, with its large windows and space, which is the polar opposite of the old center, is truly something brand new,'' she said. "Between 500 and 600 visitors were waiting for us to unlock the door, and once we did, it filled up. Truly a sea of humanity.''

The center has a $90,000 mosaic at its entryway and includes a ballroom with wooden floors, a commercial kitchen, fitness room, lounge, art studio that houses a kiln and several pottery wheels, card room, patio with a gazebo and several fountains, and three dance studios.

The center's programs will range from visual art classes to flower arranging to theater workshops and field trips for seniors. A Largo recreation membership is required to enroll in most of them. The cost for an annual membership is $10 for residents of Largo and $55 for nonresidents. There are additional fees for most programs. For example, it costs $1 for a resident to play bridge for three hours and it costs $200 for a nonresident to participate in an eight-week adult theatre workshop.

Registration forms for recreation memberships can be picked up at any city recreation complex. During the five-hour event Sunday, about 200 people registered for memberships.

"I am thrilled. We've already exceeded our expectations,'' Byrne said.

• • •

As her daughter joined 50 other participants in a line dancing workshop in Studio B, Nancy Dobbins, a 30-year Largo resident, visited the large ballroom to watch the Tutterow Dancers perform and Studio D to observe Hatha yoga.

Does she like the new center?

"The only bad thing is that there are just too many people here today,'' she said. "I love it though. The building with all the art makes a person feel creative. In the old place, the people were always friendly, but it wasn't very fun to go there.''

Warren Ankerberg Jr., the director of the center, said he's excited that his staff can now expand program offerings.

"We've always known we have great art in Largo, and now we have the building to go with it. I am hoping it will make those at the Dunedin Art Center and the St. Pete Art Center eat their hearts out,'' he joked.

By 4:30 p.m., the crowd had dwindled to about 150 visitors. Paula Richards sat with her granddaughter, Tory, 9, talking about starting ballet lessons.

"Tory has been interested in ballet, and today she showed me how the ballet classes will now meet here,'' said Richards, 63. "We're both happy. I'm trying to figure out an art class to enroll myself in when her age group meets to dance.''

Community center | By the numbers

$10.5 million Cost of the new Largo Community Center.

30,000 Square footage of the new center.

5,000 Approximate number of visitors who attended the center's open house.

2,500 Number of free hot dogs Largo city staffers grilled on the patio during the open house.

5 Number of full-time staffers who will work out of the center.

Largo Community Center opens with hustle, bustle 01/11/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 3:52pm]
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