The city's longtime dream of a municipal center is beginning to take shape.
And it could mean a creative new use for City Hall.
"There's some exciting possibilities," City Manger Rob DiSpirito said during a Jan. 15 city commission workshop.
With no other viable funding options available, the $5.1 million price tag to make it all reality left DiSpirito thinking "outside the box" on how to pay for it.
Tentative plans are to combine City Hall and the municipal services building, which houses the city clerk's office, utility billing and the human resources and finance departments, in a yet-to-be designed, 19,000-square-foot, two-story annex at the former site of the First Baptist Church, which has been used as a city-owned parking lot off of Louden Avenue and Virginia Street since 2006.
City Hall is deemed insecure for staff and the municipal building is deemed obsolete, according to a recent space-needs analysis by Clem Papas of Inside Out Group Inc., a Dunedin-based architectural firm.
The replacement municipal center would include enough room for a 5 percent increase in city employees, Papas said.
The city presently houses 334 employees using 16,415 square feet.
Commissioner Heather Gracy and Ron Barnette believe the upgrade would facilitate better customer service because it would put all the city services under one roof (instead of several blocks apart) and be completely ADA compliant.
"We've reached that point where tinkering isn't going to solve it," Barnette said. " ... From the public's point of view, they should relish the opportunity of walking into an entrance and knowing they're not going to have to go back outside and find their way into another one."
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The technical services building, which includes North District Station, planning and development, engineering and economic and housing development, would remain, but would get refurbished. The building has received a new roof and a air-conditioning system in the past year, Mayor Dave Eggers said.
DiSpirito suggested putting the First Baptist Church land up for sale on the condition that the company constructs the city's building and leases it back at "better terms than a bank."
"The land is the piggy bank," DiSpirito said, proposing merely to "extract that value back out and apply it toward the project."
DiSpirito explained that the city could include conditions for parking and that a lease could mean smaller payments over a longer period of time.
"I think it's a very creative approach," Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said. "If those pieces of the puzzle come together, I'm all for it."
DiSpirito added that the land is in the process of getting an updated appraisal.
City Hall, once a library, would be re-purposed.
DiSpirito listed possible uses as a public performance space, which residents requested in a city survey. He hopes to engage the community later on what would be desirable at the location.
The municipal center concept has been stewing since 2000, when officials at the time conducted a space needs analysis, the results of which led them to invest in land downtown.
"It is probably one of the more vetted projects," said Doug Hutchens, city engineer.