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Largo commission okays seeking $10M loan for community center

After three meetings and a bit more debate, city leaders finally gave the okay Tuesday night to borrow $10 million to build a new community center.

City Commissioners Mary Gray Black and Curtis Holmes said they approve of the project. But both voted to oppose borrowing money to pull it off.

"I thought all along we were going to borrow the money from our own surpluses and repay it from Penny for Pinellas," Black said.

The city instead plans to acquire a loan and pay the money back over 10 years with Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues.

The rest of the commission felt it was practical to move forward with the project now.

"I think it makes perfect sense to do it now when prices for construction are rock bottom," Mayor Pat Gerard said after the meeting.

Including interest, the city staff estimated that it will cost about $12 million to build the center, which will break ground next month. If the city had decided not to borrow, construction could have been delayed at least four years, and the project could have cost as much or more, according to staff estimates.

Tuesday was the third time the matter came before the City Commission. At the first vote, commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of borrowing. When the matter came before the commission for final approval, commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of borrowing. But the matter was continued because the majority of the seven-member commission must approve such decisions.

The city staff now plans to request loan offers to find a lender. But the matter isn't over.

City Attorney Alan Zimmet explained: "(The ordinance) doesn't require you to borrow the money. You will still have to approve the actual loan," he said.

In other action Tuesday night, commissioners:

• Voted to approve an agreement with Creative Contractors to manage construction of the Community Center, which will be built near the Palms of Largo campus. Commissioners also voted 6-1 to approve a resolution that opposes offshore drilling in state waters. Holmes dissented.

• Witnessed a peculiar incident during the citizen comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, a week after commissioners discussed limiting citizen comments to city business.

Greg Pound was escorted out by Police Chief Lester Aradi and Sgt. George Edmiston after Pound ignored Gerard's direction to keep his comments focused on city business.

Pound, who ran for Pinellas County sheriff last year, frequently speaks at Largo meetings, and pickets around town, to protest a case in which his parental rights were terminated.

"As you know, the city of Largo has nothing to do with having your children taken away," Gerard told Pound before the officers approached him.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Largo commission okays seeking $10M loan for community center 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 9:56pm]
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