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Largo mayor unimpressed by developer's offer of rental space

LARGO — Developer John Hopengarten thinks he has a solution to the city's data center problem. Mayor Pat Gerard disagrees.

The data center is expected to cost $3 million. That's $1 million more than originally projected. Last month, Gerard criticized the staff for underestimating how much it would cost to design and build the 3,000-square-foot building that will house the city's computer servers. It's scheduled to be built early next year near the Largo Public Library.

The data center is needed, the staff says, because the servers' current home on the second floor of City Hall is inadequate. City Hall might not survive a Category 1 hurricane, leading to potentially crippling losses of computer-dependent services — such as emergency dispatch — during a bad storm. The new data center will be built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Hopengarten is a Largo resident and owner of Westchase Group, a local real estate development company behind a planned two-story office building at 701 Highland Ave., just north of City Hall. He came to Tuesday's commission meeting to make a sales pitch. Instead of building your own data center, he said, why not rent space in my new building?

Hopengarten would ask the city to pay for upgrading his building, which he is not constructing until he has tenants, to withstand a Category 5 storm. But even with that $350,000 expense, according to Hopengarten's estimates, renting space in his building would still save the city about $1 million.

"I could offer them nearly twice the space for about two-thirds the price," Hopengarten said. "It'd essentially become a built-to-suit for them."

Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who met with Hopengarten a week or so before Tuesday's meeting, said Tuesday night that he wanted to schedule a full presentation from Hopengarten.

The rest of the commission was not as enthused.

"Obviously his comments were a bit self-serving, since he has this building ... and he doesn't have tenants yet," said Gerard, who clarified after the meeting that she has no problem exploring data center alternatives, but the city would need to put out a request for proposals to let others express interest.

"We can't just look at his proposal and not do an RFP (request for proposals); that's not how we do business," Gerard said.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert said the staff will review Hopengarten's proposal and give analysis and a recommendation to commissioners.

Holmes was miffed that his colleagues so quickly dismissed what he thought was a good idea.

"This man is building a building in Largo that the city will get property tax income from. Why would you blow him off like that?" he said. "In my opinion, it's a very viable plan."

Gerard was not as swayed by Hopengarten's proposal.

"He didn't make any points that compelled me," she said.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Largo mayor unimpressed by developer's offer of rental space 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 3:31am]

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