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Plan calls for new Largo community center to share property

City leaders got a glimpse of options for rebuilding a new Largo Community Center and most said they'd like to see the center built on land donated by a longtime community partner.

Largo plans to relocate the center, now at 65 Fourth Street NW, because it sits on prime redevelopment property downtown.

At Tuesday's work session, a consultant hired by the city presented one option for building the new Community Center on land on Alternate Keene Road.

The consultant, Wannemacher Jensen Architects, also offered three options for building a new community center on Highland Recreation Complex property, where a new Highland complex is planned.

At least six commissioners said they supported building the center on the Alternate Keene site.

Last year, the Goodman Group, which owns and operates Palms of Largo, pledged to donate that land, totaling 8.5 acres.

"I think we should take advantage of their wonderful generosity," said Mayor Pat Gerard.

All options presented by the consultant included a new two-story, 40,000-square-foot Highland Complex and a new one-story, 30,000-square-foot Community Center.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert stressed that Tuesday's presentation was preliminary. He and Joan Byrne, head of the city's Recreation Parks and Arts Department, plan to meet with advisory boards and groups that use the centers and return with more feedback for commissioners at a work session in October.

Wannemacher Jensen said building both facilities in one structure on the Highland Recreation site would minimize operational costs and allow for shared amenities. It also would let the city serve changing demographics in the future, it said.

One of the drawbacks of building the center on Alternate Keene is increased traffic, said Lisa Wannemacher, president of Wannemacher Jensen Architects. She said Alternate Keene would likely have to be widened and a traffic study would be necessary.

But a couple of commissioners criticized the consultant for not getting feedback from the Goodman Group before presenting the plan.

"I wish the one group you had talked to before you talked to us was the Goodman Group," Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said.

This week, Goodman Group representatives met with commissioners and offered solutions to some of the problems mentioned in the consultant's report. For example, Gary Solomonson, national director of sales and marketing for the Goodman Group, said his company would work with the city to ease traffic, possibly by creating a link from Alternate Keene to Lake Avenue, which has a traffic light.

Solomonson also said widening the road wasn't a major issue because his company owns plenty of land there.

One of the key issues regarding the placement of both centers has to do with demographics. The Highland complex draws more families and teens. The Community Center is more popular with seniors.

Margaret Siracuse, who takes aerobics class at the Community Center, said it's a waste of resources to build two distinct facilities.

"I don't know why they need two separate buildings," said Siracuse, 79.

But Community Center patron Christine Parker said she'd prefer separate facilities at separate sites.

"Knowing teenagers and knowing old people," said Parker, 78, "we probably would do better away from each other."

>>fast facts

Cost comparison

Preliminary cost estimates for both new facilities:

• Separate facilities at Highland and Alternate Keene: $26.5-million.

• Other options on the Highland site alone: $23.6-million to $29.8-million.

Meeting Thursday

The city of Largo will hold a public hearing Thursday to set next year's property tax rate and approve a tentative 2008-09 budget. Largo City Hall is located at 201 Highland Ave.

Plan calls for new Largo community center to share property 09/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 11, 2008 12:05pm]
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