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Police building, City Hall soon will be rubble

Commissioners vote to demolish the buildings by this summer to clear the way for redevelopment projects.

Sealing Largo's break from the past, commissioners voted this week to spend an estimated $100,000 to demolish the City Hall and Largo Police Department buildings starting in May.

By mid-March, officials say, there will be little use for the blue maze of a building on First Avenue that has housed City Hall in downtown Largo for years. There also will be no use for the police building on East Bay Drive.

City staffers and police officers will be moving out and heading for a newly renovated and newly furnished complex on Highland Avenue.

City Manager Steven Stanton is already packing his files and office trinkets in anticipation. "We really need to tear this building down," Stanton said Wednesday.

The City Hall site is especially crucial to Largo's downtown redevelopment plans. Largo is in the process of marketing an 8-acre tract, including City Hall, Ulmer Park and surrounding city-owned land, to developers. In the next two to three years, officials have said, they want to see the beginnings of commercial and residential development on the site.

According to the county Property Appraiser's Office, the City Hall building, much of which was built in the 1960s, is assessed for tax purposes at about $1.8-million. The Police Department building is valued at nearly $1.6-million. A firing range on the police site will not be torn down this summer.

Some officials, however, were not eager to tear down the buildings.

"I think we're jumping the gun," said Commissioner Mary Laurance, who, along with Commissioner Bob Jackson, voted Tuesday against demolition. "I favor valuing some of the buildings in our time that have been used for years."

Laurance argued that the buildings should stay until developers are chosen to revamp the properties. The developers then could tear the buildings down if they need to. She said Wednesday that the demolitions could leave downtown blighted with naked plats of dirt sitting idle for years until developers are ready to build.

Stanton agreed the Police Department site, about 3 acres, could remain vacant for some time. The plot, he said, may not be large enough to quickly attract developers.

However, leaving the building intact would mean ongoing maintenance costs for the city, he said.

"You just don't lock the doors and walk away," Stanton said.

Stanton doubts the City Hall site will be empty long. If the city's latest plan stays on course, commissioners will market the site and choose a developer by year's end. He thinks tearing down the building will make the property more attractive to developers who appreciate a clean slate. "It adds an element of inducement," Stanton said.

But Laurance believes the chosen developer may want to incorporate the City Hall building into development plans.

Further, she noted that the city is looking for a place to put an expanded library. Some residents have pointed to the current City Hall building as ideal, Laurance said. She said she is uncomfortable demolishing the building before a decision is made about the library.

Her opposition, however, was not enough to spare the two buildings.

If things go as planned, a portion of furnishings in the current City Hall and police building will be doled out to other Largo facilities, while the rest will be sold at an auction in April. The demolition process would begin in May and is expected to take 90 days. The buildings would be history by mid-August.

In the meantime, the city is waiting for the results of environmental studies for both sites. The cost and time frame for demolition could vary widely based on those studies, officials said.

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