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Consultants say theater is needed

There is a need for a performing arts theater in Largo, a team of consultants says.

A new theater is a good idea if costs can be supported by community fund raising, the consultants say in a report given to city commissioners Tuesday. The consultants have been studying the need for a theater since September.

The estimated cost: between $2-million and $5-million, for a 250- to 400-seat theater, according to the report prepared by architects Harvard, Jolly, Marcet and Associates of Tampa and Clearwater, and Theater Projects Consultants of Ridgefield, Conn.

Largo Recreation and Parks Director Cathy Santa said fund raising is already under way and a core of supporters plan to step up their activities once final plans for the project are approved by the commission.

For several years, some Largo residents have lobbied for a performing arts theater as the focus for Largo Central Park, which is to be built over the next 10 years on East Bay Drive between Seminole Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The project is expected to cost between $6-million and $12-million.

Their efforts got a boost last year when a Belleair Bluffs resident, Marian H. Tonne, left $600,000 in her will to build such a theater.

In September, Largo commissioners agreed to hire Harvard, Jolly, Marcet and Associates to investigate the need for a theater and to assess the condition of a building on the park site, which some commissioners thought might convert into an open-air pavilion. That building currently is leased to a mattress manufacturer.

"Our approach . . . was to involve as many people and organizations as we could in the research," consultants said in their letter to commissioners. "This has been achieved with a public meeting, a telephone survey, interviews with individuals and organizations, and a survey of arts organizations in the community."

Consultants said they found that "arts facilities in the community are inadequate for the needs of local groups."

Also, according to the report, there is a need for a theater in Largo to meet the "requirements of local arts organizations, attract a range of touring programs" and to fulfill a "desire in the community to upgrade cultural services."

As for the mattress factory building, consultants said the metal structure could be used if new walls, windows, doors and a new roof were added. The building also would need electrical work, including improved lighting and "architectural adornment," according to the report.

Consultants are to meet with commissioners to discuss the report March 11, Santa said.