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$3.5-million land gift brings Largo joy

The city is celebrating a generous Christmas gift, worth $3.5-million.

The Goodman Group, which runs Palms of Largo, has donated 8.5 acres on Alternate Keene Road so Largo can build a new community center there.

"It has turned out to be our big project of the year," said Vice Mayor Gigi Arntzen. "I'm so glad to see it come to fruition."

For several years, Largo has planned to relocate the community center, popular with local seniors, because it sits on prime property in the city's redevelopment district.

The donated property includes three parcels appraised at $3.5-million. The Minnesota-based Goodman Group, which provides assisted living and senior independent housing and other services in the community, made the offer about a year and a half ago.

City leaders welcomed the offer. But the deal hit a couple of snags this year, and, at times, it wasn't clear if it would become a reality.

Last spring, some staff members said there were potential traffic problems at the site, just north of East Bay Drive. They worried that motorists would try to make left turns at East Bay and Alternate Keene, which doesn't have a traffic light.

Instead, staff members suggested building the new 30,000-square-foot community center at the Highland Recreation Complex site, which is also slated for renovation.

And in September, city consultant Wannemacher Jensen Architects said it would be more practical to build the center at the Highland site because the city could cut down on operational costs and share amenities.

But the Goodman Group was determined to make good on its offer.

There was a community need, said Gary Solomonson, the company's national director of sales and marketing.

"Within just 3 miles of that site, there are 28,000 people 65 years and older," Solomonson said.

Company directors met with city commissioners and offered to work with the city to resolve minor issues.

Commissioners said Largo should take advantage of the Goodman Group's generosity. They worried that building two centers on the Highland site would limit the ability to expand that complex in the future. Some also felt the Highland complex, which serves a lot of children and teens, would not be compatible with the community center, which caters mostly to seniors.

To resolve some traffic issues, the Goodman Group has offered to work with the city to build a public roadway across Palms of Largo property that would connect Lake Avenue and Alternate Keene Road. That way community center users would have the signalized intersection at Lake and East Bay for left turns.

Earlier this month, city commissioners approved a conditional deed for the property. Conditional issues were resolved and officials expected the deed to be recorded by the end of last week.

The city plans to break ground on the new $10-million center by late summer.

$3.5-million land gift brings Largo joy 12/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:43pm]
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