Editor: I attended the Economic Development Summit at the Largo Cultural Center recently. The meeting started at 6 p.m. I usually like to slip into these types of meeting a little after they start and observe the goings on from the back of the room. Not this time. I was stopped at the door of the Cultural center conference room and was told I needed to have a name tag and would have to sit at a table and participate in the workshop.
There were about 40 round tables set up in the room and most were filled when I got there. The place was crawling with county, Largo and Pinellas Planning Council officials. The meeting was open to the public; however, this kind of meeting would only appeal to citizens who were very well informed on local government issues.
I recognized several officials in the room – county Commissioner Karen Seel, county Administrator Steve Spratt, PPC Director David Healy, Largo Mayor Robert Jackson, Largo Commissioners Pat Gerard and Jean Halvorsen, school board member Linder Lerner and Largo City Manager Steve Stanton. Later, Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder joined the party.
I noticed county activist Dorothy Book sitting at Lerner’s table and decided that might be an interesting place to grab a seat. It got more interesting when Reeder also joined us at the table. I asked Reeder where she stood on a county-wide fire department. She told me if the efficiency of the best city departments could be matched, she would support it.
The meeting consisted of three parts: a one hour presentation, a one hour discussion of planning strategy recommendations at the tables and then an hour of feedback from each table’s leader. Planning
consultant Richard Gehring, and an out-of-state consultant, handled the presentation which they called “Pinellas by Design,” a name that appears to have been borrowed from Clearwater’s “Beach by Design” scheme.
The key to the plan was redevelopment of downtown areas and the continued expansion of the Gateway area. The Gateway area, which is near the airport, is currently owned by three cities (St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, and Largo) and the county. This area already is the economic hub of the county.
At the beginning of the third hour the leaders of each table were given a microphone and began their reports. The first two tables agreed with most of the planners recommendations.
The citizens at the third table, which included Herb Marlow, Don Golliher and others, stunned the crowd with their recommendations. This group said the whole redevelopment plan needed to be done over because conflicts between cities would make any county-wide plan un-
workable. They recommended the planners start over and as a first step the plan should include closing or merging all cities with the county as had been done in Duval (Jacksonville) and in Indianapolis.
I think the citizens at the third table were right. Any comprehensive county-wide development plan that does not include closing the turf protecting, tax hungry, “drunken sailor” zoning municipalities would clearly be difficult at best.