LARGO — City commissioners have taken their first look at an architect's ideas for the planned $18 million renovation of the Highland Recreation Complex — and they like what they see.
During a work session Tuesday night, commissioners agreed that an indoor play area, rooms for children's parties and dual basketball courts would best serve residents, in addition to the usual array of gym amenities.
"I like that idea of having the outdoor area and the indoor playground," Commissioner Harriet Crozier said. "I think it does make us unique."
When deciding whether to direct architectural firm Gould Evans' designers to make room for a single or double basketball court, Commissioner Woody Brown kept in mind the possibility of using events like basketball tournaments to generate more traffic and commerce in the city.
"I do think there's a real need for a two-court facility," Brown said.
While Mayor Patricia Gerard initially was hesitant about spending money on an indoor play area, which may include one of the elaborate climbing apparatuses other Gould Evans projects use, other commissioners swayed her point of view.
Brown, the father of two young children, said he thinks parents would use it more than Gerard suspects.
"I think that especially in the summertime, moms of young children, moms and dads, they don't want to go out during the heat of the day," Brown said. "They want to rent a room and have a nice birthday party. I do think an indoor play area would be very beneficial."
The complex's renovation, part of the city's capital improvement program, is slated to replace the basketball and tennis courts that are more than 30 years old, in addition to restoring the on-site walking trail. Boardwalks may be added through the wooded areas.
While there will be much repositioning of structures on the site, Crozier reiterated that most of the area would be preserved.
Jeff King, a consultant hired by Gould Evans, said the addition of amenities for children and tweens arose during his firm's market research.
"Through our market analysis what we found is that there is really a lack of opportunities for youth in the fitness arena," King said. "Not a lot of places where youth are welcome for fitness."
While not set in stone, the new facility will be larger than the current 25,000 square feet, ranging between 27,000 and 40,000 square feet.
The next step in the process will be for Gould Evans, a national firm with a branch in Tampa, to develop more detailed plans and return to the commission early next year.
King said his company's projections show that with the expected increase in attendance, income will rise, lessening the amount of tax dollars needed to support the facility.
"In every case, in every one of the options, the end result is a reduction of general tax support going to fund the operations at different degrees. That's the good news," he said.
But most important, according to Commissioner Mary Gray Black, was that the center be accessible to all — a point she exclaimed after one of the design planners suggested the city could charge increased fees.
"I think that anytime we are building a public facility," Black said, "it should be open to all the residents of a city, not just a few."
Dominick Tao can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 580-2951.