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Residents say new data center would mar Largo park area

LARGO — For much of the year, the view out Ron Kennedy's kitchen window is of green bushes that line the Largo Public Library's parking lot.

And at night during the Christmas season, Kennedy can see the glow from the expansive light display in Largo Central Park just to the north of his home on Fifth Avenue SE.

That view could be changing this year, though, with city management's plans to build a data center on the library property to house the city's computer servers.

The proposal has drawn complaints from some Largo residents because of its cost — $3 million, roughly $1 million more than originally expected.

Kennedy and a few of his neighbors, including a former city commissioner, have complaints that may carry more weight with commissioners, though. They worry the data center will ruin the bucolic ambience of the area around the library, Largo Cultural Center, and the park. Their complaints have convinced Mayor Pat Gerard that the staff should at least discuss other options.

"If this was anyone else other than the city (planning to build on that land), we'd be saying 'Hold on, let's take another look at this,' " Gerard said.

The current home for the city's computer servers on the second floor of City Hall is inadequate, the city staff says, because of limited space and vulnerability to a bad storm. The new data center will be built to withstand winds from a Category 5 hurricane.

Kennedy, 46, has come to recent commission meetings and emailed commissioners, imploring them to look elsewhere to build the 3,000-square-foot building.

"I just genuinely think a better place for this is somewhere out of sight," Kennedy said. "Why would you put something so utilitarian . . . on a signature piece of land?"

In his corner is Pat Burke, his neighbor and a former city commissioner who worked for years to preserve the land that has become a recreational hub in the heart of downtown Largo. Burke fears the data center's proposed location would set a bad precedent.

"It took 15 years to turn that into a park and recreation area for the city," Burke said. "We wanted to keep it cultural, educational, and open space and it is, right now, fulfilling all those wonderful plans we made."

Burke, who served on the City Commission from 1996 to 2005, ran into Gerard at a holiday party and expressed her concerns.

"I don't necessarily agree with her, but . .. the aesthetics of putting the building there, she may have a point," said Gerard, who plans to ask the staff at an upcoming meeting about other potential homes for the data center.

One alternative location proposed by a local developer will not work, according to Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert. In December, Westchase Group owner John Hopengarten suggested the city rent a floor in his company's planned office building on Highland Avenue, just north of City Hall.

Hopengarten estimated he could save the city $1 million. Schubert, in a Dec. 27 memo sent to commissioners, questioned that number. He estimated renting space in Hopengarten's building would save the city closer to $230,000, after factoring in costs over the next decade, and then highlighted several other potential problems with putting the data center there.

"At the end of the lease," Schubert wrote, "the city would still need a data center."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com.

Residents say new data center would mar Largo park area 01/05/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:47pm]
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