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Progress Energy Trail plan entices Largo to buy nearby property

A bicyclist takes a ride on the initial section of the Progress Energy Trail, a 2 1/2-mile stretch north of Belleair Road in Clearwater.

DOUBLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2007)

A bicyclist takes a ride on the initial section of the Progress Energy Trail, a 2 1/2-mile stretch north of Belleair Road in Clearwater.

LARGO — Someday, when the 20-mile-long Progress Energy Trail is finished, it will link up with the popular Pinellas Trail to loop all the way around Pinellas County.

People on the eastern side of Pinellas will have a wide, lengthy trail to use for bicycling, the same way that westside residents use the Pinellas Trail.

With that future in mind, the city of Largo is buying a long-vacant piece of commercial property on Roosevelt Boulevard to carve out a parking area and trailhead for the Progress Energy Trail. The catch is, it's anyone's guess as to when the slowly developing trail project will eventually reach Largo. It could be many years from now.

Largo city commissioners voted in favor of the $349,000 purchase at their meeting Tuesday night. On another parks-related matter at the same meeting, they decided to spend an additional $22,700 a year to hire a part-time grounds maintenance worker to tend to the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, which reopened in January after years of being closed.

Both measures passed with a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Curtis Holmes the single "no" vote each time.

The bike trail will follow a major power line corridor that cuts north-and-south through eastern St. Petersburg, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin and Palm Harbor.

Largo is buying a 1.4-acre property at 2850 Roosevelt, right next to that power line corridor. The property, owned by the Walker Ford dealership, is on the north side of Roosevelt Boulevard about a half-mile east of the U.S. 19 overpass. It contains a parking lot and two buildings.

Holmes, an avid bicyclist who frequently uses the Pinellas Trail, voted against the purchase because he didn't think it was necessary. "I don't know why we even want to put an official trailhead there, much less buy a piece of property that's been on the market for a very long time," he said. He worried about the future costs of demolishing buildings and adding restrooms to the site.

However, Holmes was outnumbered.

"We've collected $1.4 million for the purchase of parkland, and we don't have an opportunity to buy parkland that often," said Vice Mayor Woody Brown. "We're still going to leave about a million dollars in the bank account for future purchases."

Brown also noted that east Largo doesn't have as many parks as west Largo does.

Commissioner Harriet Crozier floated the idea of making part of the property into a small dog park.

Jeff Mosely, the only Largo resident who spoke about the land purchase at Tuesday's meeting, was strongly opposed to it. "You don't know that the Progress Energy Trail is ever going to go by this location," he said.

The long-term plan calls for the bike trail's wide asphalt path to be constructed in five stages. However, six years after construction began, only the first of five parts is finished.

The first leg, completed about 5 years ago, stretches about 2 1/2 miles through Clearwater from Belleair Road to Bright House Field.

The next segment, which may be constructed by 2015, will stretch north another 2 1/2 miles from the baseball park to a pedestrian bridge that crosses U.S. 19 near Enterprise Road.

Largo commissioners asked: What about the part of the trail that will cross Roosevelt Boulevard?

Joan Byrne, the city's recreation, parks and arts director, said that part of trail section is in the county's plans for the next five years. But that could always change. Eventually the trail will be finished, she said.

Duke Energy, which bought Progress Energy, will construct the trail along its power line easement. Progress Energy has been building the bike path for the county, which is paying for it with Penny for Pinellas sales taxes. Now that Progress Energy is no more, it's unclear whether the trail's name will stay the same.

Before it closes on the property, the city will perform an environmental assessment to check for pollution.

In the years before the bike trail reaches this location, the city plans to find uses for its newest property, Byrne said

The Eight O'Clock Theatre troupe, based at the Largo Cultural Center, can use the property's 1,200-square-foot air-conditioned building to store costumes and props, as long as it pays for utilities, Byrne said. The city could also store holiday decorations there.

Contact Mike Brassfield at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151.

Progress Energy Trail plan entices Largo to buy nearby property 05/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 4:43pm]
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