DUNEDIN — A proposed city hall and municipal complex won’t be built as part of the proposed Gateway Center at the east end of Main Street and State Road 580.
At their work session on June 19, city commissioners said they understood Gateway developer Joe Kokolakis’ quandary: Publix needed additional space for its proposed GreenWise grocery. And if the Gateway included a municipal complex, retail shops, a restaurant, townhomes with a swimming pool and parking areas, along with grocery, it all could not be squeezed into the parcel.
The city also recently approved a medical surgery center at one corner of the complex.
Kokolakis told commissioners the project initially envisioned is "no longer viable."
"If it’s either Publix GreenWise or City Hall; no one wants to lose Publix GreenWise, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said.
Commissioners then grappled with where to place a new city hall-municipal complex and what to do with space currently occupied by City Hall.
After a report from Bob Ironsmith, CRA and housing director, commissioners decided to request proposals on how to best transform the city’s municipal services and technical services building at 750 Milwaukee Ave., and its Wood Street parking area, into a city hall-municipal services complex.
Ironsmith explained in his report that "the current Municipal Services and Technical Services Building which house the departments of planning, engineering, economic development, clerk, finance, utility billing, and human resources, are in poor shape and have reached functional obsolescence."
He added that the staff is recommending that the city solicit proposals for development ideas, including for its property at 500 Wood St. Proposals "could include public parking, workforce housing, market housing and retail," Ironsmith said.
The city plans to sell its parcel adjacent to the Gateway, appraised at $1.35 million, to Kokolakis and use the funds to offset the cost of the new municipal complex.
Commissioner John Tornga questioned why no other consideration was given to locating a municipal complex outside the east end plan.
"We could not find a viable option outside the east end," Ironsmith said;
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she is looking at getting a project done in a timely manner, while Commissioner Deborah Kynes commented she is "getting whiplash looking and looking and trying to find a place to do this."
Most commissioners also voiced support for demolishing the current City Hall building and transforming it into green space similar to Pioneer Park.
"The current City Hall site at 542 Main St. is also in poor shape and is functionally obsolete," said Ironsmith, who noted that the property has live oak trees and suggested it could be turned into green space.
"Having a pocket park on the east end of downtown would serve as both a shaded respite for walkers traversing Main Street and be a place for passive activity events that could draw interest from people visiting east Main Street," he added. "The various needed improvements to enhance this area as a park could come from land dedication fees as a result of new residential projects occurring in the downtown."
Using existing City Hall as green space would also complement the other city parks that are evenly spaced out over Main Street, Edgewater Park, Purple Heart Park, John R. Lawrence Park, and the current City Hall land at 542 Main St., Ironsmith said.
He said there also has been interest expressed in the green space including a theater in the round. And he surprised commissioners by noting that a park created on City Hall property would be comparable in size to Pioneer Park.
The mayor said she envisions the property becoming the Pioneer Park for the east end, with some type of performance venue. "Each (park) will garner its own personality," she added.
Tornga said while he "doesn’t want to be called the person against parks," he questions whether the city considered other alternatives for the property, such as an open-air restaurant.
Gracy and Commissioner Maureen Freaney spoke in favor of transforming the property into a park. Gracy said she agrees with the green space concept. She added just because the city "examines the best and highest use doesn’t mean we go there."
Freaney said she, too, heard there are individuals interested in buying the property to build a restaurant, but she would like to examine how green space fits in there.
"It kind of makes sense to move forward with green space."
Freaney added if the city doesn’t reserve and "block off this property for green space, we won’t have green space."
City staff envisions the City Hall property could be transformed into a park by 2024. According to a timeline provided to commissioners, Gateway could be completed in 2021, with a new municipal complex, municipal building and proposed parking structure finished in 2024.