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Buildings to make way for park

A group of dilapidated buildings on the site of the planned Largo Central Park could come down as soon as April.

City commissioners agreed Tuesday to seek bids for demolition of the buildings on the south side of East Bay Drive across from the Largo Police Station.

Once they are down, the city can begin work on the entrance to the park, which is to be built in the next 10 years at a cost of from $6-million to $12-million.

Largo Recreation and Parks Director Cathy Santa said the cost of demolishing the buildings, which total 35,042 square feet, should be about $60,000. There is money in the budget for the demolition, Santa said.

The buildings were built to house portions of the Pinellas County Fair. After the city bought the 57-acre fairgrounds site from the county in 1978 for $1.5-million, the buildings were leased to private businesses. The income helped the city pay off the mortgage on the park property.

Most recently, the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services leased the buildings. After the agency moved into a new state office building at Ulmerton and Ridge roads, city officials decided it was time to tear the buildings down.

The city is considering putting a performing arts theater in the park. Other planned amenities include nature trails, a lake, picnic areas, observation towers and perhaps an open-air exhibition hall. A miniature railroad is already on the park site.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners also tentatively agreed to increase fees developers pay on new construction for public safety.

Community Development Director Ric Goss said the 1989 fees of $51 per dwelling unit and 10 cents per commercial building square foot are too low. He suggested increasing the fees to $189 per dwelling unit and 27 cents per commercial building square foot.

Money generated is to go toward the development of the second story of the police station. So far, Goss said, the fees have generated only about $25,000.

Chamber of Commerce President Pat Aland and Commissioners Duane Runyan and Bob Jackson objected to the fee increase. Runyan said the fees will be hard for the owner of a small business to pay. He accused the city of being anti-business.

Mayor George McGough said, "We've never been anti-business. I accuse you of being anti-logic."

Commissioners will consider the issue a second time when they meet March 17.