History of the Recreation, Parks and Arts Department
The Largo Recreation and Parks Department was formed in 1960 in the upstairs room of the old Pinellas County Bank Building. Louis Presti was its first director. Other directors include John Wintermeier (1968–1980), Lynn Sordel (1980–1988), Cathy Santa (1988–2003), Joan Byrne (2003– 2021), and Krista Pincince (2021 to Present).
The Parks Department was created in 1963. As the City grew, it merged with the Recreation Department in 1966, to become the Recreation and Parks Department. Primary Parks responsibilities at the time included Ulmer Park maintenance, City Hall grounds, and the Community Center.
Late 1979, Parks and Recreation were again split into two separate departments with the Parks Department assuming responsibility of maintaining city grounds, the fairgrounds, custodial maintenance, and the Golf Course.
Late in 1984, Largo City Commission adopted an ordinance which re-merged both the Recreation and Parks Departments. In FY 2001, the Department was renamed "Recreation, Parks and Arts" to incorporate the importance of the arts in the community. In August 1989, the cities of Largo, Florida, and Tosayamada, Japan, celebrated the 20th-anniversary sister-city relationship. A 37-member delegation participated in a great cultural exchange with Largo residents. The Yamada Daiko Drum Troupe entertained over 10,000 at the Japanese Festival.
In our commitment to be the best, the department was accredited in October 1999 through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) and the National Recreation and Park Association. Largo is the first city in Florida to obtain accreditation and the 22nd agency to be accredited nationally. The department was re-accredited in 2004, 2009 and 2014 and 2019.
In 1997, staff conducted a city-wide survey to determine community needs and interests. Projects such as the Family Aquatic Center and the development of the East side of Largo Central Park are results of the community’s interest expressed in the survey. In 2001, staff conducted another community-wide survey. This survey focused on what the community feels is important and how the Department is performing in delivering the services as well as their satisfaction level with current facilities. In FY 2005, a community-wide survey was conducted to obtain resident input on department services and a neighborhood parks survey was distributed to residents within ½ mile of a neighborhood/pocket park to determine usage and feedback on desired amenities in their park. Staff uses the survey results to make improvements to facilities and to ensure programs and activities meet the community’s needs and interests. In 2003, the City engaged in a strategic planning process which further delineated community interests, satisfactions, and needs. Key focus of the strategic plan related to parks and recreation include: Presentation and acquisition of green space; development of bike-ways and pedestrian trails and implementation of key trail connectors. Additionally, the development of parks and recreation of the east side of Largo were noted.
In FY2005, staff began developing a department-wide Master Plan that involves: analyzing the department's inventory and existing service levels; performing needs analysis using focus groups, citizen surveys and interviews; identifying issues and opportunities; and developing action plans for administration, maintenance, and programming.
The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council awarded Future of the Region Awards as follows:
1999: Largo Central Park received 1st Place
2004: Central Park Performing Arts Center was recognized
2013: Bayhead Stormwater Ponds, Largo Community Center, and Playing Unplugged
2014: Highland Complex received 1st Place
National Park and Recreation Association awarded the Facility Design Award to Highland Recreation Center in 2014 and the Arts and Humanities Award in 2004.
The Florida Recreation and Park Association awarded the Agency Excellence Award to the Department in 2202, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2018. The department also received the Innovative Programming Award in 1998, 2014,2016, 2017 and 2019. Public Relations Awards were received in 1999,2005,2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2015.
The Parks Division was awarded the Outstanding Urban Forestry Program award by the Urban Forestry Council in 2008 and has been designated as a Tree City USA since 1990 and a Sterling Tree City since 2015.
A new Wellness Division was created in 1982, an expansion of the Extended Leisure Services Program. The Department offers a matching grant fund (Leisure Incentive Fund) for specific projects that benefit Largo residents. The community must support this project by raising funds to match the City’s portion. The Leisure Incentive Fund has funded the soccer concession building, Little League concession stand, soccer lights, display units at the Narrows Park, diving standards at Southwest Pool, score boards at Southwest Complex, tables and chairs for the Senior Center and many other capital items to enhance the Department facilities. In 2001, the Department purchased a mini-bus for the seniors and the Community Outreach program using the Leisure Incentive Fund, community sponsorships, fundraising activities, and grants.
1983 marked a breakthrough with Paragon Cable, as the Department initiated a weekly cable television show called "Leisure Under The Sun." The program highlighted numerous recreation activities and featured interviews with instructors and staff. The program was changed to a City program titled "Dateline Largo" in 1990 with Recreation and Parks still providing a large segment of the show. In the fall of 2001, Play! Largo, a Channel 15 monthly program dedicated to Recreation, Parks and Arts, was initiated. The first show debut was February 2002.
Beginning in FY2004, the department added two evening supervisor positions at Highland and Southwest Recreation Complexes. In FY2011 a Recreation Program Planner position was added and is shared between Southwest and Highland. In FY2015 the two Child Care Specialist positions which oversee the after school programs at Mildred Helms and Ponce de Leon Elementary were elevated to supervisor positions.
In FY2009, the division added a variety of half day specialty camps to the existing inventory of full day summer camps, sports camps and theater camp. In FY2014 Summer Bridge programs were offered at the two elementary schools were after school programs are held.
In 1968, the Largo Evening Sertoma Club lobbied city officials to purchase the Robbie McMullen tract for $90,000. Later that year, Operation GLAD (Greater Largo Activity Development), a true community effort, banded together 40 Largo clubs and organizations in an effort to build a new recreation complex. Within two years, $120,000 was raised. By June, 1972, the 33-acre Highland Complex was officially opened and dedicated.
In 1991, an addition was completed at Highland Complex adding storage space onto the gymnasium. Another classroom was added at Highland Complex in 1992. Renovations to Highland Complex were initiated in 1995 with installation of new ceiling tiles and lighting. The gym floor was resurfaced in 1996 and major interior renovation to the Program Building was initiated in 1997. The fitness center was opened in 1998, with the assistance of Largo Medical Center's donation of fitness equipment.
The roof and fencing around the tennis courts were replaced in 2002. In 2003, the walls were reconstructed in the program rooms and the floor in the ballet room was replaced in partnership with the Tutterow Dance program, who provided a $3,000 donation.
In December 2003, the City's skate park was completed with a 14,000 square foot concrete pad, half-pipes, grind rails, and other skate equipment. This was constructed on the former multi-purpose field. During the first year of operation, 548 annual passes and 3,791 daily passes were sold at the Skate Park. In August 2005, the skate park became a free facility, and operated much like a playground. However, the operation reverted to a fee based facility in January 2008. A Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program was added in 2009.
In June 2013, the new Highland Recreation Complex, a 40,000 sq. ft. facility was officially opened. The building was constructed by Creative Contractors and designed by Gould Evans architects. Features include a three story indoor playground, a double gymnasium, an indoor walking track, party room and concession area.
In 2017 an on site after school program was added at Highland and the pre-school contractual instructor became a city employee. In August 2018 Highland’s After School program was moved from Ponce de Leon Elementary to Highland Complex.
HIGHLAND FAMILY AQUATIC CENTER
In 1981, solar heating was installed at Highland Pool, making it the only municipally operated pool in Florida to offer both solar heating and an air-inflated aqua-dome, thus allowing the aquatics program to operate year-round.
Highland pool was demolished and a new state of art aquatic center was built in FY 2001, the Grand Opening was a ‘splashing’ success on July 4, 2001. The bath house was renovated also. These improvements are a part of the 10-year plan to redevelop Highland Complex, including construction of a new recreation center.
In 2001, two private donations totaling $200,000 were received and pledged to provide an opportunity to expand the Family Aquatic Center. Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) funding was awarded for $200,000 to match the donations. Construction of a three lane lap pool, with play equipment for pre-teens and a large 214 foot corkscrew slide was completed in 2004, in time for the Spring season. During the first year of the new slide/pool, there was over 40,300 attendees who enjoyed the facility, generating over $119,000 in revenue, an increase of 40% from FY 2003 revenue.
In 2006, FRDAP funding of $50,000 was received to add a flume slide to the existing slide platform. The project was completed in time for the 2007 season. The triple slide, one of the original structures, was replaced in 2009.
The Aquatic Center locker rooms, guard room and storage areas were reconstructed in 2013 as part of the replacement of the Highland Recreation building. Additional shade structures and sand volleyball were also added at this time. The slide tower was painted and the chemical controller was replaced. The deck was expanded and the filtration system was replaced. In 2016 the speed slide was resurfaced.
By 1975, other Largo recreation facilities included the 10-acre Jake Rush Little League Complex, the 13 acre Whitesell Athletic Complex, and Bayhead Tennis Complex. There were also after-school programs at five locations. A three field soccer complex was developed on Belcher Road. The first phase was completed in 1987 and the second phase completed in 1988, with park development funds. The fields were lighted in 1990 with Leisure Incentive Funds and a donation from the Soccer Association.
In 1989, the City negotiated purchase of an additional five acres of land adjacent to the baseball fields to develop a lighted football game field. The multipurpose field at Highland Complex was lighted for a practice field in 1991 and the football field was constructed in 1992.
Design for a new baseball complex, located on Alternate Keene, was also initiated in 1989. The seven acres were leased from the Lucy White family and land acquired from the dedication requirement for development of Royal Palms Senior Living Facility. The plan included three lighted major fields and renovation of the softball field at Highland Complex into a senior baseball field. The Largo Sports Complex was dedicated March 7, 1992. The Jake Rush location would be used by the Public Works Department and a recycled water station would be built on site.
A new baseball field was constructed in September of 1994 at Southwest Recreation Complex. The 200 foot Little League field provided additional fields for West Pinellas Little League. Also, lights were added in the fall of 1994 to Largo High School, providing additional practice fields and utilization by the thirteen year old to eighteen year old players.
New rest rooms were added to the storage building at Whitesell Field in 1996, along with a sidewalk system for Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility. The fence along the north end was moved to incorporate the County Right-of-Way, landscaping and irrigation were also added in FY 2002. Also in FY 2002, the lighting system on Field #1 was replaced, in FY 2003, the lighting system on Field #2 was replaced and in FY 2004, the lighting system on Field #3 was replaced.
Field improvements for all four fields of the Largo Soccer Complex began in 1997 and were completed in 1999. The lights on Belcher Soccer Complex were all replaced in 2013 as were the light poles at Southwest softball field. Four tennis courts at the Bayhead Tennis Complex were converted to sand volleyball and opened in November, 1997. In FY 2001, Bayhead became a teen center, and in FY 2002, the remaining tennis courts were converted into basketball courts and a multipurpose field.
In 2010 shade structures were added at the sand volleyball courts. In 2012 as part of the reconstruction of Highland the skate park was moved to Bayhead Complex. In FY 2002, the clay infield was renovated at the Southwest softball field.
In FY 1999, the City added another Recreation Program Coordinator position as a teen coordinator to develop programming and activities targeting middle and high school age youth. In FY 2001, the Bayhead Complex was converted to the City's teen center and the Juvenile Welfare Board awarded grant funds to support a structured teen program. The Largo Teen Council was formed by community youth to develop programs and activities for teens.
In FY 2002, the four tennis courts at Bayhead were converted into basketball courts and a lighted multi-purpose field for teen sports/activities. In FY 2003, the indoor renovations to Bayhead included reconstruction of the office/ workspace, ceiling tiles, and lighting. In FY 2004, the roof was replaced and the storage sheds renovated.
Beginning in FY 2005, a city-wide approach to teen programming was taking place. Teen Councils and activities were developed within the Outreach program and at Southwest Recreation Complex. Beginning in 2006, the teen program coordinator began reporting to the program manager at Southwest, and efforts were concentrated on developing city-wide teen programs and coordinating all the teen councils. In FY 2009, this position was eliminated as part of budget reductions. The majority of the responsibilities have been absorbed by other staff.
By 1981, the Department was busy with the development of Southwest Complex, a state-of-the-art facility featuring an Olympic-size pool, four racquetball courts, lighted tennis courts and more. In September, 1993, the City was pleased to negotiate a private/public agreement bringing Friday Nite Live, a teenage activity program, to Southwest Recreation Complex. After five years, the Department coordinated the Friday night program, and changed the name to No Fear Friday.
A million dollar renovation to Southwest Complex was completed in August of 1996, which corrected ongoing leaking and roof damage. Also, the racquetball courts were repaired and new flooring installed. In 2000 and 2001, the majority of the HVAC system was replaced. Also in 2001 the lobby and gym floors were resurfaced. In 2003, the exterior of the building was painted, the parking lot was resealed, and the interior doors were replaced.
The tennis courts at Southwest were demolished to make room for an eight-court state-of-the-art hydro-grid clay tennis complex built with Local Options Sales Tax funds. The Golf Course Manager and staff took over the operation and maintenance of the Largo Tennis Center through the Enterprise Fund, and the courts were dedicated April 2001. In FY 2004, the operation of the tennis center was returned to Southwest and General Fund as a cost savings measure to the Golf Course Enterprise Fund. In 2012 FRDAP funding ($50,000) was received and a tennis deck and social area was added to the complex.
In September 2004, the preschool program was licensed by the Pinellas County Licensing Board. Extends hours for preschool programs, enhancing the program. In FY 2005, the fitness room was renovated with the installation of new cardiovascular and strength training equipment, flooring, artwork, and painting. In FY 2006 the lobby restroom was renovated.
Beginning in FY 2008, a new design for the renovations and expansion of the facility was approved. The racquetball courts were demolished and the facility was expanded and renovated to include moving the office area, entrance, lobby and fitness room to the south end of the building and adding program rooms. While the center was closed for renovation, Southwest programs leased space in a strip mall (formerly used as a police sub-station) for various classes and fitness center. This was called “Play Express”.
In FY 2009, the tennis wall was added through FRDAP grant funds and a new utility shed installed for the equipment used to maintain the tennis courts. The expanded (25,000 sq ft) and renovated Southwest facility was opened in April of 2009.
In 2010 the Juvenile Welfare Board funded an Out of School Time (OST) program at Southwest. In 2017 the afterschool program at Mildred Helms was terminated and an on site afterschool program added at the facility. Vans were purchased to transport students from a variety of elementary schools in the area. In 2018 the gym floor was replaced and the lighting was converted to LED. Acoustical panels were installed in the gym ceiling to help with sound. In 2021 a VPK Program was added to the licensed childcare program.
Southwest Pool was constructed in 1981. In February of 1994, the West Florida Lightning Association (WFLA) successfully completed the heating of Southwest Pool, as a joint project with the City using Leisure Incentive Funds.
Major renovations to Southwest Pool were initiated in 1997 and completed in May of 1998. The renovations included the replacement of the filter system, resurfacing the pool shell, conversion to liquid chlorine, painting the pump building, dive towers, and platforms as well as purchasing a permanent awning. Beginning in 2001, Southwest Pool became a year-round operation.
In 2002, projects included replacement of the bathhouse heaters, renovations to the pool heating and cooling system, and installation of an enclosed stairwell at the diving tower. In FY 2003, half of the starting blocks and anchors were replaced and the bathhouse showers were renovated. In 2004, the WFLA swimming and diving programs merged into one organization.
In FY 2005, the dive tower railing system was replaced, the deck drain was corrected, and pump house doors replaced. Also, the lane ropes were replaced with partial funding ($3,000) through the Youth Improvement Fund. In FY 2008, the restrooms were renovated, the dive tower was renovated to extend its life, and a storage addition was constructed. In 2009 the starting blocks were replaced. And in 2010 the stairs were replaced on the three meter dive board and the underwater lights were replaced. In 2012 ADA lifts were purchased for the pool.
The Senior Center was developed and opened April, 1988. The 3,000 square foot building was purchased and renovated with Community Block Grant funds. A Senior Board was created to provide direction for the programming of the center and senior programs. Many new activities, such as the Kitchen Band, Craft & Chatter and Senior Services were added.
Thanksgiving of 1989 was a very sad day for the community as the auditorium of the Community Center burned. The classrooms and storage area were salvaged and work began to rebuild the auditorium. Temporary quarters were leased at 206 West Bay Drive to house the various programs. In December, 1990, the new Community Center auditorium was re-dedicated to the citizens. A large kitchen, storage space, additional classroom and rest rooms were added in the design.
In 1991, the Department purchased land across the street from the Community Center to provide additional parking. American Disabilities Act modifications to the Community Center's rest rooms and construction of a ramp in front of the Center, were completed in 1996. An additional lot on 2nd Avenue was purchased to expand the parking for the Community Center.
In 2001, the back storage room of the Community Center was converted into another usable room, with the addition of tile flooring, painting, and moving the storage area. Additional renovations to the room include a ceiling, enclosure of new storage area, and electrical wiring for telephone and computer usage were completed in 2003. This room is now used as volunteer central, housing a volunteer program for the community center comprised of over 300 volunteers, and serves as a volunteer resource for the department. The department is also involved in the volunteer corps comprised of several agencies in Pinellas County including RSVP, the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, UPARC, and others. The group meets regularly and organizes joint events to recruit and train volunteers. Beginning in 2002, the Day of Good Deeds has been a very successful event drawing over 150-200 volunteers and over 100 people in need of deeds. The event was organized as part of the President's national day of caring, and takes place in partnership with the City of Dunedin. The event includes an opening ceremony, then volunteers are dispatched to a variety of places to perform needed work for the elderly, ill, and/or anyone in need of assistance. At the conclusion of the deeds, volunteers return to the event site for a thank you celebration of activities.
In 2010 The Goodman Group, owners of the Palms of Largo, donated an 8.5 acre parcel to the City of Largo to construct a new Community Center. The City engaged Wanamacher Jensen Architects to design the building and it was constructed by Creative Contractors. The building was the City’s first LEED certified building achieving Platinum status for its design. The building incorporated a public art project of a mosaic wall in the design. Using tilt wall construction the Community Center is also designed to be a shelter for city employees and incorporates a generator system that runs on both diesel and natural gas and can power the entire building for up to seven days. Features of the building include a ballroom, commercial kitchen, art studio and three classrooms with sprung floors for dance and other exercise classes.
In 2011 a $450,000 Energy Efficiency and Conservation block grant was received for the installation of photovoltaic cells at the new center. The Center officially opened in January 2011 marked by a ticketed gala event of Saturday evening and a public open house on Sunday. In 2015 the mini-bus was replaced with a slightly large 32 passenger bus.
The Police and Recreation and Parks Departments began a partnership in the summer of 1996, forming the City’s first Community Outreach site at Lake Palms, housed at Free Methodist Church on Fulton Street. In 1997, with community support from neighboring mobile home parks, the Tri-Parks Outreach Site opened its doors at Emmanuel Chapel on 142nd Avenue. A third Outreach site was added in the summer of 1998 at Largo Wesleyan Church in Northwest Largo. The site was moved to Lake Villa in 1999 utilizing a manufactured building. The program serviced a total of approximately 350 children between the three sites.
In 2001, through a partnership with the Police Department, the program was awarded a Federal Byrne Grant through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to add an educational component to the program and to hire tutors and a coordinator to facilitate this educational component. The grant funding was received for three years, and beginning in 2004, the education coordinator was retained as a seasonal employee to continue program planning and development and to facilitate some tutoring during the school year.
Beginning in November 2003, the Tri-Parks site was closed and the Lake Villa site was relocated to Brittany Bay Apartments on Seminole Blvd. The City negotiated an agreement with Brittany Bay and Reliance Housing, with Brittany Bay providing a three-bedroom apartment to conduct an after school recreation program for the neighboring community.
In 2004, an evening teen program was initiated at the outreach sites, including special activities for teens held at least two nights per week. The program also includes a teen council serving in conjunction with other city-wide teen councils.
In FY 2008, the Brittany Bay site was closed as part of citywide budget reductions. In 2009 the Outreach Supervisor position was eliminated and outreach activities were moved under the supervision of the Athletics Manager. The Lake Palms site, the city’s first outreach site, was closed in FY2010 as part of citywide budget reductions.
In FY16, a program supervisor splitting time between recreation programming in the Spring/Summer and Community Outreach in the Fall/Winter. The focus at the time in Community Outreach was to build recreation memberships through business and community partners.
In FY17 an additional program supervisor began assisting with connecting to the community including adding a variety of activities such as the Business/Sponsor appreciation night, Play Perks, PRO Affiliate membership, Central Pinellas Chamber participation, area expos for Health & Safety, Back to School activities and National Night Out for example. In FY19 these responsibilities were moved to one supervisor.
Today, Community Outreach continues to build upon business memberships, raises funds for citywide event sponsorships, assisting with facility-based event sponsors, training staff on sponsorships, represents RPA at community expos and presentations, raising funds for Youth Scholarships through events such as Largo Taste Fest, Mayor’s Golf Tournament, as well as a Median Sponsorship (new) and Banner advertising program (new). For major events, we now utilize a software program called HelpGetSponsors.com for event proposals, agreements and activation. We also have an annual donor program called Every Kid Deserves to Attend Camp. A new concept and fundraising activity for RPA will be the Walk to Play Peer to Peer event coming later in 2022. Outreach oversees the Ambassador Volunteer program, attends various network activities through the Bluffs Business Association and Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce as well as the Pinellas Realtor Organization (PRO). The annual Community Connection event continues to be a successful program for local realtors.
In November, 1984, a new, successful city-wide events were introduced at Ulmer Park - the Holiday Celebration. In October, 1985, the Halloween Happenings was added to the Recreation and Parks Department's activities. Halloween Spooktacular is a very successful event with over 6,000 participants enjoying inflatable games, trick or treat activities, and arts and crafts. Beginning in 2000, this event was held at the Largo municipal Complex. In 2003, the event was moved to Largo Central Park with an estimated attendance of over 18,000 people the first year and has grown to over 25,000 attendees.
Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting continues to provide the community with the holiday spirit during the winter months. The event was changed from a two-day event to a one-day coupled with the Holiday Parade, over 15,000 attendees enjoy the lights, music, and holiday activities in Largo Central Park. The parade was eliminated in 2010.
The Largo Central Park holiday light display has continued to grow in size and popularity over the years. By 2019 the entire display had been converted to LED lights. Each night between Thanksgiving and New Years Day up to 10,000 enjoy the lights. In 2018, as a fundraiser for the Largo Central Railroad, the North Pole Express event was added to the holiday events. This ticketed event sold out both years.
The Ulmer Park Food Fest was replaced with the Heart of Largo Food and Music Festival held in Largo Central Park. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 participants per year have enjoyed country music and a variety of food in the park since 1996. In 2001, a variety of musical styles was introduced as part of the festival. Beginning in FY 2002, the event was redirected into a Family Festival, with a variety of games, activities, entertainment, and music. This event was eliminated in 2008 as part of citywide budget reductions.
Other events enjoyed at Largo Central Park include Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Candlelight Vigil, and Touch-A-Truck. The Bluegrass Strings and Crafty Things Festival was introduced in 2005. A Holiday Parade was added in 2006 and is held in conjunction with the kick-off to the Holiday Stroll event.
In June 2004, the Heart of Largo Family Festival was the first event to kick-off the Largo Centennial Celebration and 100 separate events were planned by the City and various community groups throughout the centennial year, culminating with another Heart of Largo Family Festival and fireworks display on July 4th, 2005.
As a partnership with Brighthouse Networks and the Partners N Progress for the Arts Foundation, a large inflatable screen and LCD projector were purchased to provide community movies in Largo Central Park with a series beginning in 2005. Also beginning in FY 2005, the City began leasing a trolley from PSTA to assist with traffic concerns during large special events and functions in Largo Central Park and the Cultural Center, as well as to transport patrons to various downtown locations. The Hampton Inn at the Largo Towne Center was the first sponsor of the trolley, covering all operating costs for the first year. Sponsorship opportunities are also present with the trolley.
Beginning in 2007, a position was added in the Special Events Program to coordinate activities and events in the Downtown area and Ulmer Park. Events such as the weekly Harvest Market, running from November – April as well as Sunset Sounds music concerts and FLAIR (an artist market and event) have been very successful in bringing patrons to the downtown area. In 2004 the July 4th fireworks were moved to Largo Central Park and each year since more than 25,000 people have come to the park for the event.
In 2011 Playing Unplugged was added to events in the park. The event was paid for in full by sponsorships from the health care community and emphasized the value of play for children’s health. In 2018 Playing Unplugged was combined with the Touch a Truck event. In 2012 the Downtown Market, Sunset Sounds and other Ulmer Park activities were eliminated as part of budget cuts.
Art in the Park was added to city special events in 2018 and Largo Live, a monthly concert series was added in 2019. In 2018 the department discontinued the rental of Largo Central Park for private events. Only city and co-sponsored events may be held in Largo Central Park.
In 2018 the North Pole Express was added to the holiday events. This was a joint venture between the City and the Largo Central Railroad and the proceeds went to the building fund for the railroad. In 2017 a Ferris wheel and carousel were offered from Thanksgiving to New Year’s as part of the holiday lights. Proceeds were shared between the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation and the City.
In 1982, two park sites were purchased, Northwest Park at 2.14 acres and Lions Club Park at 6.08 acres. The Parks Department, meanwhile, took over right-of-way and ditch mowing operations, and instituted a tree crew service which today maintains all foliage within Largo. Ditch mowing was transferred to Public Works in 1993. A recreation property tax was initiated in 1985, which provided a millage tax for park development. The development of Lions Club Park and Northwest Park was completed in 1986 with the funds. The tax was redirected to Largo Central Park development in 1990.
Effective in October, 1985, an herbicide and insecticide program was initiated, entailing the spraying of ditches and other areas to retard weed growth. The staff also maintains aquatic growth. In 1987, the City acquired and developed Lake Villa Park. At Lake Villa, there is a one-acre lake and playground. Woodrow Park, located at the corner of Third Street N.W. and Woodrow Avenue, was developed in 1989. Playground equipment was installed, creating a pocket neighborhood park.
Beautification became a priority for the Parks Division in 1989 as many projects were initiated. The City was recognized as Tree City U.S.A. and began supervising the inspection and permitting for tree removal as required in the new tree ordinance. With the cooperation of the Largo Chamber of Commerce Beautification Committee, "Have Pride in Largo" was initiated.
The "Have Pride" program included a clean- up day, Adopt-A-Mile program, and an application for a DOT Median Beautification Grant. In 1990, the City received the DOT grant to beautify Seminole Boulevard and Missouri Avenue. Community businesses contributed $5,000.00 for the project. The City and Chamber of Commerce were recognized for their efforts by receiving the Take Pride in America Award in 1991. In 1992, the City received an Environmental Education Grant from the Florida Clean Air Commission.
Woodrow Park was renovated with Community Block Grant funds in May of 1994. A multi-purpose half court was added, as well as picnic shelters and a tot playground. The grand opening was held in June for the neighborhood. McMullen, Northwest, and Sunshine Parks have been neighborhood parks within the City for over 20 years. Other small or pocket neighborhood parks such as Donegan and Lake Judy Lee have been added through the years.
Northeast Park was renovated to enhance its use by the public in 1995 for $60,000.00. Substantial clearing was done to improve visibility and safety for users. A picnic shelter and a pre-school playground were added. The park improvements were dedicated in the spring of 1996. In 1998, the Pine Grove Mobil Home Park was purchased to make further improvements to the park. A new entrance from East Bay Drive, parking, and basketball courts will be added utilizing a FRDAP grant in FY 2002. Also, beginning 2002, Northeast Park is home to the "Paw Place", the City's dog park. In 2006, phase II of Northeast Park was initiated with the construction of a multipurpose court for in-line hockey and basketball, the completion of the parking lot and the addition of a restroom, utilizing $150,000 of FRDAP funding, $75,000 in Parkland Dedication Trust funds, over $76,000 in Pinellas County recreation grant, and $75,000 in LOST funds. This project was completed in 2008.
In 1998 the office space at the Parks Building was renovated. The Parks building received a new roof in 2000 and the remainder of the facility parking lot was paved in 2001.
The renovations of the Missouri and Walsingham medians projects were completed in FY 2000. A sponsorship for community support of the maintenance of the medians was approved in FY 2000 and initiated in FY 2001. In FY 2006, the beautification of medians along Seminole Boulevard from East Bay Drive to 126th Ave. was initiated using $110,000 in FDOT Highway Beautification Grant Funds. In FY 2007, a new median on Walsingham Boulevard will be beautified/landscaped between Oakhurst Rd. and 137th St. using over $60,000 in FDOT Highway Beautification Grant Funds. In FY 2008-2009, the City was awarded 1 million dollars of FDOT Highway Beautification Grant funds to re-landscape medians along East Bay Drive, Missouri Avenue, and to complete Seminole Boulevard. Low maintenance trees, plants, ground covering and other materials will be used to reduce on-going operating costs.
Five acres were donated to the City in June of 1999 by Michael Datsko. The Datsko property is located east of US 19 and Whitney Rd. The City also purchased three acres adjacent to the Datsko property. The park area was cleared and fenced in FY 2000. In 2003, the City purchased an additional three acres making the total property 11 acres. Design and permitting for Largo Datsko Park began in FY 2005, with construction completed in 2007. Amenities for the first phase of construction include a trail, playground equipment, picnic areas, half basketball court, sand volleyball, and parking lot.
Beginning in 2003, the Parks Division launched an environmental program to eradicate exotic plant species and replant with native vegetation. The program is ongoing with work at the George C. McGough Nature Park, Bonner Park, the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve and landfill area. Other parks and facilities will also be part of the exotic plant removal and replacement program. McGough Nature Park was selected as a site for exotic species removal by the Department of Environmental Protection as part of a grant they received.
In FY 2005, the Parks Division initiated the development of an urban forest master plan for the City utilizing a $25,000 grant through the State of Florida Division of Urban Forestry and $25,000 from the Tree Trust Fund. Another Urban Forestry Grant award was utilized to hire an intern to manage the master plan process and to purchase a stump grinder to assist the tree crew operation. In FY 2006, $174,900 in Urban Forestry Grant Funds were awarded for a variety of projects including the purchase of a laptop to allow the tree crew to manage the City's urban forest from the field, and street tree planting. The grant required $58,300 in matching funds from the Tree Trust Fund. The second tree crew was added in FY 2008.
The Parks Division initiated the Mayor's Beautification program in FY 2006. The program involves the selection of a roadway to beautify, the selection of tree species and planting along the roadway. In the fall of 2008, the Division also kicked-off the CommuniTrees Program, whereby a neighborhood initiates interest in beautifying the streets through tree planting, working with staff, they select the tree species. Staff purchases the trees, assists the neighbors with tree planting and provides them instructions for maintenance. This is a wonderful program to beautify neighborhoods at a very low cost to the City.
In 2009 the property at the southeast corner of Bayhead was purchased with Parkland dedication funds to expand the Bayhead and later to install Dog Bone Run dog park. Also in 2009 the City received over $1`million for the beautification of various state roads with the City.
In 2011 as part of the planned reconstruction of Highland, a new storage building for parks equipment was constructed at the Largo Sports Complex. In 2013 the Bayhead Stormwater Park opened . Also this year median maintenance and maintenance of smaller neighborhood parks was contracted out. In 2016 a second prison crew foreman position was added Playgrounds at Northeast Park and McGough were replaced. In 2017 the department received a $50,000 FRDAP grant to install solar lights and a picnic area at the Highland Lake. In 2018, contractual grounds maintenance services were brought back in house. Playgrounds at Lake Villa and Woodrow Park were replaced. In 2019 the department received a donation of playground equipment from the Gingerbread School and it was used to replace the playground at Northwest Park.
The Parks Division was kept busy with the new properties acquired. In June, 1976, John Bonner Park, a 21-acre nature park was opened. In 1985, a FRDAP Grant was received to add restrooms, playground area, and a parking lot to the park.
In 1986, Largo Narrows, a 34-acre nature setting on the Intracoastal Waterway, was purchased with the assistance of Pinellas County, the State of Florida, and the City of Largo for 1.8 million dollars. A Florida Recreation Development Assistant Grant was received in 1987, which assisted in the development and the park opened May, 1988. The City received an additional $350,000 from the State of Florida to build a nature center, opening February, 1990. The School Board authorized partial payment for a teaching element to be initiated for fourth grade students. The Park Supervisor began providing the Pinellas County School instructional program in January, 1991.
In 1997, the Largo Narrows was renamed the George C. McGough Nature Park in honor of former Mayor McGough. In 1999, half of the boardwalk at McGough Nature Park was renovated and the remainder of the boardwalk completed in 2001.
Beginning in FY 2002, the Nature Parks program was organizationally moved from Recreation to the Parks Division, with a greater emphasis on resource management and environmental education. In FY 2005, the division initiated a master naturalist program. This program provides education and certification to adults interested in the environment and it will also feed into a volunteer program allowing participants to become a Friends of Parks volunteer assisting patrons, assisting with park maintenance, and conducting guided walks.
The park manager moved off site beginning in 2003, and the mobile home was removed to make room for a play area for summer camp youth and additional trees. In 2004, JR the great horned owl moved to McGough Nature Park. He was adopted from the Moccasin Lake Nature Center in Clearwater as they were reducing their animal inventory.
In FY 2008 when threatened with closure due to city wide budget cuts a group of citizens formed the Friends of Largo Nature Parks (a 501c3) to support the McGough Environmental Education Center and the Birds of Prey program. Since its formation the volunteer run Birds of Prey program has acquired an American Bald Eagle, hawks, kestrels and various owls (screech, great horned, barred ). They have provided programs for veterans, school children and the general public.
In 2018 an $80,000 grant was received from the County from the Deep Horizon settlement to replace a large segment of the shell train with a rubberized and accessible surface. Also in 2018 the Birds of Prey program received a donation of a 15 passenger van that is used to transport the birds to various events. The van was accepted by the City of Largo.
LARGO CENTRAL PARK
Community involvement was solicited as Wade Trim, Inc. was contracted in 1989 to design the master plan for Largo Central Park. The master plan included the 70 acres of the old fairground property and the 70 acres of SWFWMD property. A ten year phasing financial plan, along with the master plan, was approved by the Commission in 1990, including funds from a 1¢ sales tax, private donations and a City-assessed millage for Largo Central Park.
The future held anticipation and excitement of the development of Largo Central Park. The Partners N Progress Foundation selected the park as their major project, committing to raise $50,000 for the park entrance. A community resident donated $600,000 for a theater to be built in Largo Central Park by December of 1995. A needs assessment for the theater was completed in 1992 and demonstrated 63% of the community are interested in a small community theater.
The Florida Live Steamers drove the Golden Spike into the 2,000 feet of train track installed at Largo Central Park on November 9, 1991. The City and the Florida Live Steamers have worked together to make many improvements to the Largo Central Railroad. The tracks were moved when the park was developed, the shelter at the entrance for riders is designed like an old train depot, a water feature was added to the route with tracks over the pond and waterfall, and in 2004 a tunnel was completed to provide another amenity to the railroad. The group continues to offer rides for the community the first weekend of every month and during many special events.
The site plan for the western development of Largo Central Park was approved in October, 1992. The plan created a park boulevard utilizing the 4th Street intersection, winding behind the Library and connecting with 3rd Street. A large event area, trail around the park, playground area, the railroad and some picnic areas were designated in the site plan. Additional parking was added for the Library and the special events.
The City purchased property from the Taylor family in December of 1993 for 1.5 million dollars. The property consisted of 4.5 acres on the corner of Seminole Boulevard and East Bay Drive and 29 acres of landfill property. The City also received a gift from the Rugg Family Foundation of $100,000 to complete a fountain plaza on the Taylor property. PNP committed $65,000 for the Clock Tower in the fountain plaza.
In 1993, the Largo Rotary Club committed to spearhead the funding drive for the universally designed playground that would provide accessible play opportunities for both able and disabled children. Eighty thousand dollars was raised and 2,200 volunteer hours were given to install the playground.
The Department awarded the contract to Kimmins Construction to complete the west side development of Largo Central Park, which consisted of the new park road, additional parking for the Library, the rest room facility, and the Court of Honor. The contract award was for $2,184,000 and construction began in July, 1994. Vice Mayor Jim Miles and Dick Leandri, from the Partners N Progress Foundation, spearheaded the addition of a Military Court of Honor constructed along East Bay Drive in Largo Central Park. Pavers were sold honoring the men and women who served their country, and a memorial wall honoring all the military units that served since World War I, was constructed. The Florida Live Steamers also redesigned their tracks to become an integral part of the landscape design of Largo Central Park. The Largo Kiwanis initiated an Adopt-A-Tree Memorial program in the Park.
The City received a National Small Business Administration Tree Planting Grant for the purchase of trees for Largo Central Park in the amount of $69,000. This grant was submitted by the Parks Division and was utilized to add trees to the park project.
On April 20, 1995, Largo Central Park opened to the public with four days of activities. The festivities honored all the organizations and individuals that gave to the various elements of the Park. As part of the festivities, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the Largo Cultural Center.
Development of the east side of Largo Central Park was initiated in June 2001 and includes a rest room building, educational kiosk, bike trail, and boardwalks in conjunction with the building of a storm water treatment facility, for a total construction cost of $1,820,516 for the Park elements and $132,000 for landscaping. Approximately $400,000 in grant funds was received from SWFWMD, $150,000 from FRDAP, and over $200,000 in other grants and private donations including Florida Power, Shell Oil, and National Fish and Wildlife were received for this project. The master plan was completed for the remainder of the park in FY 2001 by Wade Trim, Inc. The Largo Central Park Nature Preserve held its grand opening in March 2003. In 2006, a picnic shelter was installed near the educational kiosk to provide a shaded area for family gatherings.
In 2006, a sidewalk was installed in the railroad area to allow the public to enjoy the landscaping and water feature. All the shelters were painted in 2008. Electrical upgrades and improvements were initiated in FY 2008.
In 2003, the Largo Central Railroad constructed a tunnel which has become an important feature of the railroad. The park has added a variety of sculptures since the first piece “The Circle of Peace” was added shortly after the park opened. In 2013 the clock tower was demolished and the entrance plaza was redesigned and landscaped. In 2005 the Military Court of Honor was rebuilt and paid for with a federal grant administered by Housing and Urban Affairs. In 2010 the City invested $650,000 to replace and expand the Largo Central Park playground. Artificial turf was installed and decorative fencing was added around the playground.
In 2013 automated gates were added to the entrance of the Nature Preserve and a shade structure was added in the LCP playground. In 2012, the electrical capacity of the park was expanded and more lights were added to the western part of the main park in the railroad area. In 2019 the pond at the Military Court of Honor was drained and a new liner was installed. In 2020, a sculpture by local artist Clayton Swartz was installed in the park at the corner of East Bay and Central Park Drive to commemorate the 25 birthday of Largo Central Park. The playground sandbox was replaced with a shade structure and additional seating opportunities.
The Indian Rocks Golf Course was purchased by the City in February, 1979. Indian Rocks Golf Course's name was changed to Largo Municipal Golf Course. A redesign of the Largo Municipal Golf Course was initiated in 1995 to bring the 9th hole back to the Club House, allowing for increased 9-hole play. This redesign was in conjunction with the plans to construct a new Club House. The 9-hole redesign opened for public play in the fall of 1996 and construction began on the Club House at that same time. The new Club House opened for use in February, 1997, at which time the old Club House was demolished to make room for a new parking lot. In addition, the name of the Golf Course was changed to Largo Golf Course.
In 2004, a marketing analysis was initiated to assist staff with understanding and directing proper marketing of the golf course to increase revenue. The first annual glow-in-the-dark Halloween tournament was held in October 2004 with much success.
In April 2006, the golf course renovations project was initiated. The 1.8 million dollar project included replacement of the greens, fairwarys and tee boxes, replacement of the irrigation system, and re-design of the holes. The newly renovated golf course and remodeled club house opened in April 2007.
In 2012 the roof of the maintenance building was replaced. In 2014 a Footgolf Course was opened on the Largo Golf Course which operates simultaneously with traditional golf. In 2019 the first disc golf tournament was held at the course. In FY2019 the golf course café which had been operated by an outside contractor was taken over by the City and is being staffed with City employees.
The City's cultural arts program roots date back to 1979 when the Federal Government enabled the Department to employ 12 young artists as part of the CETA program. A year later, the City Commission approved funding for the cultural arts program and created a public relations position for the Department.
During 1983, the Department created the Partners N Progress program, which included the Caring By Sharing volunteer program; the Leisure Incentive Fund, a 50/50 matching program; and, creation of a foundation. An average of 9,000 volunteer hours are performed providing services to the cultural center patrons.
Unicorn University, the fundraising institution of high learning, was created in 1986 with the help of Partners N Progress Foundation. A gala "spoof" parade was held on the night of November 15, 1986. The Feed Store was moved into the Largo Central Park on October 30, 1992. A National Endowment for the Arts Grant was received to fund the design of a community theater in Largo Central Park in 1993. In April 1995, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Largo Cultural Center was held as part of the grand opening celebration for Largo Central Park.
A major commitment to attract local businesses and private donations and State grant dollars was made, as the design of the Cultural Center increased from a 12,000 square foot Theatre in the Park to a 24,000 square foot Cultural Center. The Center included a 333 seat theater (Tonne Playhouse) and a multi-use community room (Parkview Room) which could be divided into 4 sections.
In 1991, Marion Tonne contributed $600,000 for the development of the the Cultural Center. A State Cultural Affairs Grant for $500,000 was received in 1994 and another $500,000 was received in 1995. A professional fund-raiser was contracted to direct the community capital campaign. A total of over $600,000 was raised through major sponsorships of $5,000 or more, and a chair sales campaign selling chairs for $500 and $1,000. Also, stars were sold for $100 and $250 and installed on one of the walls in the Cultural Center lobby.
The Cultural Center opened November 1 and 2, 1996, with two black-tie events honoring all the donors. The 15th season of Eight O'Clock Theatre opened with "Camelot" on November 7, 1996 at the Largo Cultural Center, performing to sell-out crowds.
The restoration of the Largo Feed Store through the assistance of the Largo Historical Society and a State of Florida Historical Preservations Grant was initiated in 1997. The project was completed and the Largo Historic Feed Store re-opened to the public on May 16, 1998. In FY 2004, the landscaping of the Feed Store was redone including the installation of a small water feature and the restoration of the citrus grove.
In June 1999, the Partners N Progress Foundation joined with Angels for the Arts to form one 501(c)(3) organization with the simple goal of advancing the arts in mid-Pinellas county and making them accessible to everyone. Both boards joined together under one president, Margaret Coupe. The 1st Annual fundraising drive was initiated in September 1999.
In FY 2000, the Department added a Development Specialist at the Cultural Center, which creates a new direction for the involvement and support for Partners N Progress for the Arts to play in funding of Eight O'Clock Theater and educational programs. Also, the summer of 2000 is the first year the City created a partnership with the Pinellas County School system to offer a summer youth drama program.
The Cultural Center became a separate division within the Department, breaking away from Recreation, in 2000, much like the Golf Course and Parks. In 2001, the box office underwent renovations with a new desk, counter top and new monitors. The storage room was also converted to additional office space in FY 2002. In 2003, the ticketing system was replaced.
Beginning in the summer of 2001, the operation of Eight O’Clock Theatre began a transition to the Partners N Progress Foundation, who has assumed all expenses for the theater operations and revenue. PNP began paying the City for the use of the facility.
Also in 2001, the City received an endowment challenge of $100,000, and for the City to match this $100,000 by December 2001. Staff will not stop at the $200,000 endowment, however, and aims to raise a total of $360,000 in order to be eligible for a State of Florida Cultural Endowment Program match of $240,000 to make the total Cultural Center endowment $600,000. This endowment drive is on-going.
In January 2005, a television program titled “Arts Beat” was initiated on Channel 15 to feature cultural programming at the Largo Cultural Center. This program was also featured on the Pinellas County public television station. In April 2005, the three-day Largo Music Fest was launched with national headlining acts such as Lee Greenwood, Don McLean, Survivor, Three Dog Night, and others.
The Cultural Center and arts programming continues to grow, with larger named headliner acts such as Judy Collins, Eric Bourden and the Animals, and Janis Ian, performing to sell-out crowds. In April 2005, the Largo Music Festival will be held in the mid-section of Largo Central Park, dubbed “Festival Oaks”, the site of the former Renaissance Festival behind the new Library.
In FY 2006, the carpeting was replaced in the lobby area and dressing rooms. In FY 2007 and FY 2008 the tables and chairs were replaced. In 2010 the chillers were replaced at the center and a video projection system was installed. In 2013 decorative fencing was added to the portico and the sound system was replaced.
In 2014 the Performing Arts Foundation paid to replace the flooring and window treatments in the Parkview Room. And in 2015 the lobby walls were plastered, carpeting replaced and the Foundation paid to replace all of the lobby furniture. Also in 2015 the roof of the Center was replaced.
In 2016 at the recommendation of the Suncoast Performing Arts Foundation, city commissioners unanimously approved changing the name of the facility to the Central parks Performing Arts Center. The ceiling of the Parkview Room was replaced and upgrades were made to the public restroom including new partitions and countertops.
In 2017 security cameras and badge readers were installed throughout the building for the safety of patrons and staff. In 2018 the Central Park Performing Arts Foundation purchased a state-of-the-art 7ftx11ft outside LED sign for the building. The cost was $35K.
In 2020 the outdoor brick terrace overlooking Largo Central Park becoming the perfect location for wedding ceremonies, cocktail parties, or small gatherings. The Central Park Performing Arts Foundation invested $40K in external lighting for the building. The vision was to create a higher visibility of the Center and act as a key identifier as to what type of activity was inside. Providing a more theatrical & entertainment effect. They also purchased additional supportive lighting for the stage for $15K.
In 2021 the City made major upgrades to the playhouse production lighting. Including LED based intelligent lighting with power distribution, LED follow spots and new controls for the system. Upgraded video presentation system to HD 4k including front and rear projection. Investment of approximately $200K.