LARGO – The owner of a recently closed business on West Bay Drive spoke up during the Largo commission meeting Feb. 18 to ask city leaders to define the downtown area.
Ahiskell Delgado – owner of Dolcini’s Gelato, which until this weekend was located at 325 W. Bay Drive – said she only recently found out that her business was located in downtown Largo.
“I never saw I sign that says, ‘Welcome to Largo,’ ‘Welcome to downtown Largo.’ Where is downtown Largo? I don’t know,” she said.
Other signs point to Largo Public Library, Central Park and City Hall, but nothing delineates where Largo’s downtown businesses and restaurants begin, she said. As she mourned the loss of her own business, she wanted to speak out to help other businesses in Largo’s undefined downtown area.
“I hope we are the grain of corn that fell on the ground, that died (and) that will bring life for the rest of the people that are there,” she said. “They need help. They need a lot of help. They cannot do it on their own.”
The meeting included a public hearing to approve the Largo Mall Activity Center Special Area Plan, “designed to act as a catalyst for future economic redevelopment,” according to city documents. The designation, unanimously approved by commissioners, gives framework to the area around the Largo Mall, allowing for more intense mixed-use development compared to other parts of Ulmerton Road. Assistant Community Development Director Bob Klute said the designation would allow the mall’s movie theater to expand into extra floors.
But special area plan – and there are more than one in Largo – doesn’t help the downtown areas. Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Harriet Crozier said that Delgado had brought up a good point about signs.
“She’s right. There is nothing,” she commented.
The city has redevelopment districts designated for the area West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road, but they don’t include any plans for new signs. Crozier recalled that the city had removed a clock tower in the area. A new clock tower at the start of West Bay Drive could welcome drivers to Largo, she said, asking the community development department to come up with a plan.
“I think we should have something in the budget,” she said. “We should say something.”
Commissioner Jamie Robinson agreed. As the manager of the Largo Feed & Garden Supply at 210 W. Bay Drive – a business that has been around before the city of Largo was founded – Robinson said he saw the confusion firsthand.
“As soon as I say ‘downtown Largo,’ it’s like telling them we’re at Mars. They don’t have any idea where that’s at,” he said. “If there’s anything we can do to promote that area, like we’re doing with all the rest of these areas, I would appreciate that.”
Commissioner Woody Brown said his own children would personally miss Dolcini’s. While admitting a bias as both a business owner and resident of downtown, he said that people in that area feel as though the city has moved out of the area, withdrawing city-sponsored events like the Saturday market and Friday night music from the area.
“We’ve been talking a lot about redeveloping downtown, while pulling our services out of downtown. I’d like to, as the economy turns around, pay attention to that area that’s been a little bit neglected,” he said.
Community development staff was charged with coming up with a plan to highlight the downtown area.