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Family: Sale of park is wrong

Grandchildren of the couple who gave Ulmer Park to the city are opposed to plans to sell the park as part of the downtown redevelopment project.

"I think it would be nice if it stayed a park, because that's what my grandparents intended it to be," said Mary Taylor Hancock, granddaughter of M.W. and Dora Ulmer.

A project to widen West Bay Drive will encroach into the park, but Hancock said she believes enough land could be salvaged for a smaller park.

City Manager Steven Stanton says a portion of the park will become right of way for street widening. The other portion will be sold, along with about 7 more acres of city-owned land, including the site of City Hall. Now that the city has decided to sell the property, the next step is to find a broker, Stanton said. The park is about 2 acres, he said.

Jean Taylor Carter, Hancock's sister, said she grew up in Largo. Her grandparents lived in the space where the current City Hall is located, across from the park. They donated the parkland to the city in 1914.

"With us, it's more sentimental than anything," Carter said.

The lot was once home to a bandstand, a library and a social hall, Carter said. But "things get outgrown," she said.

That's what city officials say prompted their desire to move from the current City Hall building to the Aegon financial complex on Highland Avenue. With City Hall moving and plans to revamp the downtown area, Ulmer Park must change as well, Stanton said. Activities the city once held at Ulmer Park are now at Largo Central Park, down the street on East Bay Drive.

"Ultimately you've got to balance the needs of the entire community," Stanton said. "It was a fantastic gift," he said of Ulmer Park. "Now, the needs of the community are changing."

The city will require a developer who buys the land to set aside an area for green space, Stanton said. Also, he said, the city may request a developer to incorporate the Ulmer family name in some portion of the project.

What form that green space or name dedication would take will ultimately depend on what type of developer buys the land, Stanton said.

Hancock, Carter and other Ulmer grandchildren, Elizabeth McMullen Massey and John S. Taylor III, wrote to city commissioners to express their opinion.

The city owns the land, Carter noted, and she doubts the letter will affect officials' decision. Still, the grandchildren wanted to "make a statement," she said.