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Support grows to keep park

People hoping to save at least part of downtown's Ulmer Park are finding strength in numbers.

Largo resident Mary Hancock's grandparents, M.W. and Dora Ulmer, donated the park land to Largo in 1921. Hancock and other Largo residents began circulating a petition to save the historic park at the beginning of July.

In a month and a half, almost 900 people have signed petitions to show their support. Park supporters plan to present the City Commission with the petition at Tuesday night's commission meeting.

Lifelong Largo resident Martha Gibson said that after a picnic planned for today at the park, she expects more people to show their support.

Gibson said she expects to have more than 1,000 signatures by the end of the day. And she hopes the picnic will be a message to the commission.

"People do use this park, and it can be a community meeting place," she said.

Largo's current redevelopment plans call for part of the park to be used for the West Bay Drive widening project. The rest will be sold to a developer, along with surrounding property for a total of nearly 8 acres.

Less than a mile away on West Bay Drive is the 32-acre Largo Central Park, the focus of much of the city's attention and expense. With its playground and miniature trains, it has overshadowed the 1{-acre Ulmer Park's benches and marquee. And 36 additional acres of Largo Central Park have yet to be developed.

City Manager Steven Stanton said he found it "somewhat disconcerting" that after two referendums and two years of studies and discussion, people are coming forward now to voice their opposition to development plans for the downtown area. But he also said deciding what to do with the park is still the community's decision.

"Is it too late? It's never too late," Stanton said. "I suspect there can be a win-win situation here."

Stanton said the commission will most likely choose a developer for the area within 30 days.

Gibson said she does not expect the city to scrap its redevelopment plans.

"Our thinking is we want the city to keep some of the park _ at least keep the name," she said.

The petition began circulating at a golf course and beauty shop downtown, but Gibson said as people learned of efforts to save the park, they asked for copies of the petition to circulate themselves.

"The signatures are not from any one section of town," Gibson said.

The Downtown Largo Mainstreet Association, which works with Largo residents and businesses to maintain the cultural and historical settings of the area, hopes to save some green space in the area of Ulmer Park.

"We would like to see green space maintained in the redevelopment area where we could hold community functions . . . which may mean just what's left of the park," said Leon Floyd, the group's treasurer.

Gibson remains hopeful the commission will not choose to eliminate the park.

"We're really open to how they do it. I know they can do it," she said. "Progress is good but you hate to totally wipe out your past."