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Park proposal includes library, wetlands

The vision is lofty and grand.

It would begin, perhaps, with a trip to the new Largo Library. From there, a canoe ride to a sculpture garden, where visitors could peruse the work of local artists or look at a community art wall with renderings done by area grade school children.

In the middle, a picnic area.

To the east, three distinct sections. The first would be a wetlands area with a boardwalk for people to stroll about. The second would be a land of jousting and other medieval merriment that have become staples of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. And just below that lie mounds of dirt on which young people could ride their mountain bikes or fly model airplanes.

After months of discussion and designs, city officials on Monday unveiled their long-term vision for the central portion of Largo Central Park, 80 acres that the staff thinks will be the perfect complement to the other sections of Largo's largest stretch of green space.

City officials think the vision would take five to 10 years to complete. The cost: about $6-million. City officials hope that some of the amount would be paid for with grants and private fundraising.

"Certainly, this isn't something that is going to be done overnight," said Cathy Santa, the city's recreation and parks director. "It took us that long to build Largo Central Park, and look what a jewel it has become."

The proposal was shown at a meeting Monday night to the city's Recreation/Parks Advisory Board, a citizen's group. Santa and her staff will present the plan, designed by Wade-Trim _ a consulting firm with offices in Tampa _ to city commissioners at a meeting tonight for their feedback.

"It looks like the central part will be wonderful," said City Commissioner Pat Burke, who reviewed the plans. "I think it'll make it worth all the money that's going into all of this."

Largo Central Park, which opened in April 1995, consists of a playground, a railroad for children, picnic areas and the Military Court of Honor. Eventually, that area would become the western portion of the park. Thirty-one acres currently being transformed into wetlands, a bike trail and a stormwater retention area would become the eastern edge of the park.

The first portion of the proposed project, clearing out unwanted exotic plants such as Brazilian pepper trees from the grounds, is scheduled to be done next year. The remainder of the work would begin in 2003 at the earliest, city officials said.

"It completes the whole opportunity for all of the parkland to be connected," Santa said. "I see it as a wonderful way of complementing the park and making it one of the focal points of Largo."

Burke, who had been the commission's most vocal critic of building a new library in the park, admitted to being somewhat disappointed that some of the parkland would be used to build the library and additional parking space.

"I will never be completely happy because they have to pave some of the open area," she said. "But I think there's no way to avoid it."

Burke said she was particularly excited about the plans for the sculpture gardens and community art wall. Santa said she got the idea for an art wall from a facility in Detroit. City officials would ask that the renderings fit a theme for the area.

"The whole thing is trying to create a positive atmosphere," Santa said.

City officials envision the sculpture garden becoming a popular spot for weddings, small concerts and other events.

Future park plans

A consultant's $6-million plan for the future of Largo Central Park includes:

a sculpture garden

a community art wall

a mountain bike trail

a pond