Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo United Soccer and the city are at odds over building change

LARGO — The building itself is not much to look at — a small structure along Belcher Road decorated with two white silhouettes of soccer players set against a black backdrop.

But to officials with the city of Largo and to members of Largo United Soccer Club, whose red, white and black logo sits between the silhouettes, the roughly 2,400-square-foot building has been the source of a frustrating yearlong struggle.

The building, which the soccer club uses for meetings and as shelter from inclement weather, has sat dormant and condemned since last summer as the two sides have debated how much work it needs and how to pay for it. It's a drawn-out process that is either the fault of a private group that took a few liberties with city property or a city bureaucracy with some communication problems. Or both, depending on whom you ask.

The City Commission has offered a solution: a $20,000 city loan to the soccer club so it can cover the cost of the $30,360 renovation project. The commission is split 4-3 on the loan, though, which goes for a final vote next week. The dissenting votes — Commissioners Harriet Crozier, Mary Gray Black and Curtis Holmes — blame both the city and the soccer club for the situation while questioning the need to spend $20,000, even as a loan, during tight budgetary times.

"I love to have the kids in sports programs. Nowadays, they spend too much time with Nintendo," Holmes said during last week's commission meeting. "But spending money this way right now, to me, is not prudent."

The problems started in the summer of 2009, when soccer club leaders decided they wanted to do some remodeling on the city-owned building but neglected to get city approval. They took down a dividing wall that separated the club's meeting space from a storage area, doubling their meeting space.

The dividing wall was a haphazard construction of drywall and chicken wire that didn't connect to the floor (and thus buckled whenever anyone leaned on it) but still managed to have active electrical outlets, causing some in the club to question its safety.

"My concern was the safety of the kids," said Al Sousa, executive director of Largo United Soccer, which has about 450 players ages 3 to 17. "I thought it was going to be a very simple task."

And it was, at first. The job took a few weeks and cost about $2,500. But a year later, city staffers responding to a complaint that the air conditioner wasn't working well discovered the reason. The area that the wall unit was supposed to cool had doubled, unbeknownst to the city.

The soccer club's remodeling job had unintentionally changed the building's primary use, according to city building officials. Instead of storage, it was now assembly, which has stricter requirements for fire safety. More work was needed.

"I accept full responsibility for that mistake," Sousa said of not getting city approval. "I accept no responsibility at all for the delay. … This should never have taken as long as it did, and I personally hold the city responsible."

City departments disagreed on what the building needed, according to architect Barry Ullmann, requiring five drafts of designs over 10 months. It was an inordinate amount of work, he said, for a project that would take barely a month.

"It seemed hard to figure out who was running the show, who was taking orders from whom," Ullmann said.

Facilities manager Glenn Harwood admits there were some communication miscues but said the soccer club was not without fault. According to Harwood, the city nailed down a scope for the project by November, with an estimated cost of $30,417, but gave the club the option to try to find a better price.

A four-month search ended with a $30,360 bid, $57 less than the starting point. Sousa and soccer club board member Tim Johnson dispute that timetable.

If the City Commission gives final approval Tuesday, the club will use $15,500 it has contributed to a city trust fund for athletic facility maintenance and improvements for the project and will repay the $20,000 loan from the city over five years.

The contractor actually started work on the building in May because there was a miscommunication between city staffers and the soccer club about whether work could begin before the commission approved the deal.

This was just one of many things about the process that annoyed the commissioners who voted against the loan.

"What it boils down to is a communication failure," Public Works director Brian Usher told the commission June 7. Usher promised that a "system of checks and balances" was going in place to prevent similar problems in the future.

"We are no more happy about this than you are," Usher said. "This has been a learning experience for all of us."

Reach Will Hobson at or (727) 445-4167.

Largo United Soccer and the city are at odds over building change 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 5:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Back in bargaining, Hillsborough school district and its teachers are $50 million apart


    It started off nice and friendly. Gretchen Saunders, chief business officer for the Hillsborough County Public Schools passed candy around the room. Negotiators for the district and the teachers' union commended one another for their good work during Hurricane Irma. The union thanked the district for paying everybody a …

    This a breakdown of what the school district says the teachers' union requests would cost if granted. The union rejects many of these numbers.
  2. Federal study says humans harmed by dispersant used during Deepwater Horizon


    A first-of-its-kind scientific study has determined that the dispersant BP sprayed at the oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010 harmed human health.

  3. Across Tampa Bay, local commercial banks and credit unions appear healthy


    In another sign of economic vitality, Florida's home-grown banking industry demonstrated strong bench strength in the latest quarterly analysis by Bauer Financial. The vast majority of commercial banks with headquarters in Florida received five "stars" from Bauer, which is the highest ranking of health on its 0-to-5 …

    Several years ago, First Home Bank in Seminole faced regulators breathing down its neck for inaedquate controls and financial weakness. Under CEO 
Anthony N. Leo, the bank has rebounded. It received a top-rated "5" star rating from Bauer Financial in the latest quarter. Most area banks are doing better these days. [SCOTT KEELER      |     TIMES]
  4. Two linemen lose their wedding rings in Tampa Bay. So far one has been found and returned.

    Human Interest

    Two linemen who spent days restoring power in the Tampa Bay area had the same unfortunate mishap: They lost their wedding rings.

    Facebook helped Michael White find the wedding ring he lost while helping restore power in Tampa Bay.
  5. Need is now for new mental health center at Bay Pines, veterans say


    ST. PETERSBURG — Veteran Ellsworth "Tony" Williams says the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System's new mental health center will help fill an immediate need.

    The new mental health center at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System stands four stories tall and was built at a cost of $92 million. It will centralize services that before were scattered. [HOWARD ALTMAN   |   Staff]