Crest Lake Park has scraggly patches of grass mixed with pockets of bare sand. It has a popular dog park, mostly on-street parking and lots of trees. A simple sidewalk circles a big lake. Next to a small playground, there are creepy-looking restrooms whose doors have been welded shut to keep out homeless people who sit in the park. • Four miles to the south, Largo Central Park is known for its huge, state-of-the-art playground shaded by oaks. The park is stocked with big picnic shelters, nice public restrooms, wide winding walkways, ample parking, attractive landscaping, eight statues, a miniature railroad and a war memorial. In the middle, there's a lush green expanse that park maps call "The Great Lawn." • These days, Clearwater leaders are talking about making Crest Lake Park more like Largo Central Park — a signature park for their city. They will discuss the idea at a City Council meeting in two weeks.
"Largo Central Park — when I drive by it, you know you're in a park. It's inviting. There's no reason we can't do the same with Crest Lake Park," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who's pushing for a redesign of the park east of downtown Clearwater between Cleveland Street and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.
Tale of two parks
The parks are roughly the same size. Crest Lake Park is about 38 acres, although a big chunk of that is the lake. Largo Central Park is about 35 acres, but some of that is taken up by Largo's library and cultural center and their parking lots.
However, the parks are quite different, and so are their respective cities' investments in them.
Largo spends about $600,000 a year on Central Park, said Largo parks superintendent Greg Brown. That includes the salaries of staffers who set up several major events each year in the park. Also, the current playground cost $800,000.
Meanwhile, Clearwater spent about $86,000 maintaining Crest Lake Park last year, according to city parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar. And Clearwater, which maintains more parks than Largo, has been dismantling older playgrounds in recent years due to budget constraints.
Still, Cretekos and some other Clearwater City Council members are interested in improving Crest Lake Park — partly because it's in such a central, heavily traveled location.
"It's great if they want to redo the park. It's a jewel," said JoAnna Siskin, president of the Skycrest Neighbors group, which wants the park's restrooms reopened in the meantime. "The park is beautiful the way it is, but they've let it go. It's been neglected for several years now. We'd like to see them take care of it."
A green lawn
Largo Central Park wasn't always a crown jewel. It was a desolate former county fairgrounds site when Largo bought it from Pinellas County in 1978.
In 1990, Largo voters approved a small, 0.18-mill property tax specifically for the park. Developing the central park and cultural center took many years and cost more than $8 million, and the city got plenty of criticism along the way.
Clearwater doesn't have as much money as it used to for parks. However, $1.5 million in future Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue is earmarked for Crest Lake Park. That tax money isn't due to be available until 2017 and 2018, but the city could potentially borrow against it if officials want to act quicker.
During a City Council discussion last week, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson wondered what needed to be done to the park.
"I love that park. I think it looks great," he said. "What would we be doing to change it?"
The city would consult with citizens about that, officials said. But the mayor shared some ideas.
Remove the berms along Gulf-to-Bay so drivers passing by can see into the park, Cretekos said. Add more interactive and recreational features for children. Figure out a way to use the lake for activities.
And do something about the grass.
"As nice as Crest Lake is," the mayor said, "it's really not that green kind of lawn that we see at Largo Central Park."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.