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Largo City Hall space to simplify steps for new businesses

LARGO — If you wanted to open a new restaurant in town, you could find yourself bouncing around City Hall for a while.

First, you'd need to go to the planning area, through the set of double doors under the sign "Permits/Licenses" that is straight ahead when you walk in City Hall's main entrance. Then you might need to visit an engineer, in the office to the right of the main entrance, under the words "Community Development."

You'd probably need to head upstairs to talk to someone about fire safety. If there was a problem with your grease trap, you might even need to drive out to the water treatment plant on 150th Avenue N to talk to someone in Environmental Services.

Largo staffers have a plan to eliminate this runaround by reconfiguring City Hall's first-floor offices to create a "one-stop shop" for people wanting to do business in the city. It's not cheap, though, and its $165,000 price tag has given a few city commissioners second thoughts about a project Largo's business community first asked for in 2007.

"It's a critical change," Teresa Brydon, Largo economic development manager, said Monday as she looked over the designs.

"We realize there needs to be one central location for everyone who deals with planning, economic development, building, engineering … " she said, continuing to list the city offices that a prospective Largo business owner could need to interact with before opening.

The project will push back the bank of desks that greets customers as they enter the "Permits/Licenses" office, making room for one desk facing the entrance. That's where a city employee will greet guests and direct them to the right place.

A new "huddle space" — basically another desk with a few chairs — will be added so departments that don't operate on the first floor, such as environmental services, can have a staff member available. A new wall and redesigned work spaces will provide more privacy for people who dislike having to discuss sensitive financial matters in the office's more open current layout.

Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Robert Murray expressed concerns about the project at last week's City Commission meeting, though. Holmes wondered whether the city was overpaying for new furniture, and Murray suggested postponing the work.

Facilities Manager Glenn Harwood assured Holmes that the $80,000 estimate for clearing out the old furniture and buying and installing new work stations was the best the city could get. The project also includes items such as building a new conference room and redesigning the entrance to the community development office so a bathroom for physically disabled people can be open during evening commission meetings, when the rest of City Hall is locked up.

Just replacing the carpets and installing floor tiles will add another $45,000, according to staff members.

Community Development Director Carol Stricklin told Murray that this project has been a long time coming.

"This project has been four years in the making," said Stricklin, referring to a 2007 report by the Largo Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce that recommended improving City Hall signs, the waiting area and the check-in process.

"We feel pretty confident that we're ready to make these improvements, and feel, in fact, that they're overdue," Stricklin told Murray.

The commission did approve the expenditures, which were included in this year's budget, by a 6-1 vote. Holmes voted no. The project is scheduled to start in early August and take about six weeks to complete.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo City Hall space to simplify steps for new businesses 07/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 4:39pm]
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