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Largo city commissioners are debating a public art ordinance

City leaders aren't on the same page when it comes to making major developers improve the look of Largo. Last year, city commissioners asked staff to draft an ordinance that would require developers of certain larger projects to create public art or contribute to an art fund. But about half the commission at the last city meeting in July opposed the idea or said it wasn't the time. So, on Tuesday, they plan to consider the issue yet again. "I just don't think the economic environment is just correct to do this right now if we really want to encourage people to come into our city," Commissioner Rodney Woods said at the last meeting. Commissioner Robert Murray was also concerned the requirements may put an extra strain on businesses. But Commissioner Woody Brown and Mayor Pat Gerard think the ordinance, which applies to certain private projects costing $2-million or more, would attract developers, not deter them. On average, about two private projects a year reach the $2-million mark.

"I think it is, over time, going to encourage more quality businesses to want to come to Largo because, when they visit Largo, they'll think it's a quality and forward-thinking community," Brown said.

Gerard said that both St. Petersburg and Sarasota have had similar ordinances for a long time and "are the fastest growing cities in the area."

Clearwater, Tampa and Tarpon Springs also have public art ordinances. In Clearwater, most public art is showcased downtown. And Clearwater planning director Michael Delk said developers rarely balk.

"You don't get a lot of push-back from it because people do understand the value of a great public environment in the downtown area," Delk said.

Tarpon Springs planning and zoning director Renea Vincent said her city, which adopted the ordinance a year ago, hasn't had enough time to gauge the response from developers. Just one project, a Lowe's home improvement warehouse, has met the $1-million threshold, she said.

Nationwide, there are about 400 public art programs. The first, driven by developers, was started in 1959 in Philadelphia.

Largo's ordinance would also require the city to set aside about 1 percent of certain capital projects costing $500,000 or more. Commissioner Mary Gray Black said the legislation primarily obligates the city to spend money for public art.

Because there was a 3-3 vote July 15, commissioners will consider the ordinance for the third time on Tuesday.

Proposed public art program: How it works

The Public Art Board will develop the program and present recommendations to the City Commission. Private developers with certain projects costing $2-million or more would be required to create public art valued at 1 percent of their job value, or contribute half that amount (but not more than $200,000) to the city's public art program.

Public art doesn't have to be a sculpture or statue. It can also be works like frescoes, mosaics, tapestries, murals or architectural elements designed by an artist.

What they like

Just because commissioners are split on the need for a public art ordinance doesn't mean they don't have their own passions and preferences when it comes to art. We asked each of Largo's commissioners to share one of their favorite artworks with you.

Fast facts

The state

Florida began a public art program in 1979.

More than 1,000 works of art have been purchased or commissioned and placed in state public spaces.

Cities and counties

Miami-Dade Art in Public Places began in 1973.

City of Naples public art ordinance passed in 2001.

Local and nearby programs include Pinellas County, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County and Tampa.

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, www.florida-arts.org

Largo city commissioners are debating a public art ordinance 08/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 1:48pm]

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