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Clearwater mulls next City Hall: iconic or functional?

CLEARWATER — City Hall sits on a waterfront bluff with spectacular views of the Intracoastal Waterway.

But if everything falls into place, the next administrative center of Tampa Bay's third-largest city might assume a more modest form.

Perhaps residents will ride an elevator up to a floor or two above a parking garage. Maybe city offices and meeting rooms will occupy part of a bus and light-rail complex. A new seat of municipal government could even rise in the shadow of the Church of Scientology's Flag Building.

One thing appears certain: Whatever replaces the current structure isn't going to be as impressive as the three-story building with the grand foyer at 112 S Osceola Ave. that opened in 1966 and is tentatively scheduled for demolition.

"I don't feel there is a great deal of appetite for building an iconic city hall," said City Manager Bill Horne.

After the wrecking ball? The Clearwater Marine Aquarium's proposed 200,000-square-foot home for Winter the dolphin and other rescued marine mammals is slated to open in the same spot in 2017. Under a tentative agreement with the city, CMA has agreed to pay $7.5 million from ticket sales at that facility to build a new City Hall as part of a 60-year lease.

This isn't the first time Clearwater has pondered a new City Hall. In 1993, the city paid nearly $6.5 million for the SunBank building on Cleveland Street for a new City Hall, but quickly turned around and sold it. Later in the decade, the city sold its City Hall annex at Missouri Avenue and Cleveland Street, which had also been considered as a site.

The city is most interested in four sites: the former Tampa Bay Times bureau on the corner of S Myrtle Avenue and Court Street, which the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has eyed as a new bus and light-rail depot; the site of the soon-to-be-razed fire station at Pierce Street and S Garden Avenue; or as part of a parking garage either on the current PSTA terminal and adjacent county lot on S Fort Harrison Avenue, or a CMA-owned parcel next to the current City Hall.

A lot depends on if the Greenlight Pinellas public transit initiative wins voter approval in November and where CMA decides to build its parking garage, said Ed Chesney, the city's environmental manager.

"We're kind of on pause right now," he said.

Whatever is built will likely be "functional" and "compact," said Chesney, although some sprucing up of the front of the building has been discussed.

Anne Garris, who has spent untold hours in City Hall as an activist and journalist, thinks Clearwater should think bigger.

"City Hall is representative of the identity of a city, and Lord knows we have little enough respect of government as it is, but you tuck them away in a top story of something, that's small-town stuff," Garris said.

Horne said the city just doesn't have any plans to spend more than $7.5 million, which doesn't get quite the bang for the buck that it did nearly 50 years ago.

That kind of penny-pinching is fine with Carl Schrader, president of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition.

An already existing building on the bluff — designed with plenty of pomp and circumstance — could handle city business without a hitch, said Schrader.

"Plunk it into the library," he quipped, referring to the glassy four-story landmark with commanding views of the water on N Osceola Avenue. "They have a successfully built a fortress around the library to defend against the homeless, so it should be a good place for a city hall."

Last year, the city erected fences around the entrance of the library.

The library has some extra space and could be reorganized to accommodate offices for the mayor and council members, city manager and city attorney and a meeting space, Schrader said.

Mayor George Cretekos thinks that wherever City Hall ends up being built, it should be near the Municipal Services Building on S Myrtle Avenue and should accessible to the public.

His own architectural preference leans toward the St. Petersburg City Hall or the former seat of local government in his hometown of Tarpon Springs.

"I think City Hall ought to be an iconic location, the kind of building we have now," Cretekos said. "But I realize that in today's world that might not be practical."

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

Clearwater mulls next City Hall: iconic or functional? 05/29/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2014 2:02pm]
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