LARGO — Feedback from various city departments has convinced most city commissioners that it's finally time to raze the old Community Center. In a tight 4-3 vote, the commission has approved a bid to demolish the center.
For years, city leaders have been talking about razing the old center. But a little over a month ago, commissioners delayed a vote to raze the building, asking city staffers to explore whether the old center could be used as a city government data center. They also asked staffers to find out whether the old center had historical significance.
The city is considering a new data center because computer servers at City Hall are vulnerable to storm damage. Construction costs are estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million.
Staffers determined that it would cost $2 million just to bring the old Community Center up to current code and reinforce it to withstand a major hurricane. And that figure doesn't include costs to reconnect utilities or replace items that were stripped from the building after the new Community Center was opened on Alt. Keene Road in January.
The old center also doesn't meet certain technical requirements for a new data center.
Volunteers on the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Committee also were asked to weigh in. They acknowledged that the structure was not historically significant. Most of the historic part of the building was destroyed in a fire in 1988. But members thought the old center, which was a social hub for years, had cultural significance, and they were concerned about losing a community gathering place downtown.
Through the years, the city has bought properties downtown and demolished rundown buildings with plans to market chunks of land to a developer someday. The city also moved the community center hoping to persuade someone to redevelop the site of the old center.
Vice Mayor Robert Murray and Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Mary Gray Black opposed demolition.
Murray worried about how another empty lot downtown would affect other businesses there. The city has other shovel-ready sites downtown, and there just hasn't been interest in them, he said.
Holmes said he didn't know why the city was in such a hurry to tear down the center.
"If we tear the thing down, it would be shovel ready for corn," he said.
Black said she heard that small-business owners downtown feared the old center's demolition.
"They are concerned that when that building goes down, that it's just another nail in their coffin," Black said.
Commissioner Woody Brown, who has a chiropractic office near the property, said he has talked with other business owners and they feel pretty much the way he does. He had been open to exploring another use for the center, but since that doesn't appear practical, he supports razing it.
"I think a vacant parcel is much more pleasing than a deteriorating building," he said.
The building doesn't look as good as it did two months ago, Brown said.
"That is my concern as a business person. And that is the concern of the other people that I spoke with that are my business neighbors," Brown said.
Facilities manager Glenn Harwood said the old center could be demolished within the next few weeks.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.