CLEARWATER — Dating from the 1960s, Clearwater's City Hall isn't aging well. One side of the building is slowly sinking, so its floors aren't exactly level anymore. The place needs a lot of work.
Meanwhile, just a few blocks to the north, there's space available in the sleek, modern Clearwater Main Library. This 90,000-square-foot palace opened just six years ago with extra room for future expansion.
So why not move City Hall's offices into the library, especially if it would save money?
The City Council will vote on this question tonight, although members are leaning against doing it. It appears that most council members prefer to keep City Hall where it is — at least for now.
(The council's regular meeting this week was moved from 6 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. tonight due to a scheduling conflict.)
Not too long ago, the plan was to build an entirely new city hall. Clearwater was going to do that sometime in the next decade using the city's share of Penny for Pinellas sales taxes. But that plan is looking increasingly unlikely due to the economic downturn and Clearwater's ongoing budget woes.
"As a practical matter … the political circumstances today dictate against building a new city hall," City Council member John Doran said Monday during the council's work session. "The general public thinks this building is perfectly adequate and we should just live with it."
To cut costs, Clearwater has been considering moving most of City Hall's functions into the second floor of the four-story Main Library. The cash-strapped city could save about $300,000 a year by no longer paying for City Hall's operating costs. It could also avoid spending about $500,000 for needed renovations to the aging building — roof repairs, painting, elevators and carpeting.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson is tempted by the idea — "$300,000 every year is an awful lot of money, given our situation," he said.
But other council members are reluctant.
Mayor Frank Hibbard thinks City Hall is worth saving.
"I live in an 85-year-old house. You continue to do work on it — maintenance and repairs," the mayor said. "It's not a perfect building. I think we ought to stay here. … I think this is going to be City Hall for a decade and maybe a lot longer than that."
He and others noted that the Main Library might get more patrons in the future because some of the city's four branch libraries might have to close.
Also, emptying out City Hall would create a domino effect because of the limited amount of space in Clearwater's other buildings.
The offices of the city manager, attorney, council and clerk would move into the library. The departments of Housing and Economic Development would move from City Hall to the Municipal Services Building on Myrtle Avenue. Parks and Recreation offices would be forced out of the Myrtle Avenue building and into the Long Center near U.S. 19.
But council member George Cretekos thinks city services should ideally be consolidated into one place. In his view, spreading them out further would just confuse the public.
Council member Bill Jonson wanted to know: If City Hall offices were to move into the Main Library's second floor, what would happen to the library's youth programs that are housed on that floor? The city's library director, Barbara Pickell, responded that they'd be moved to the first floor.
And finally, there's this question: What about the fact that City Hall tilts ever-so-slightly, causing officials to compare it to the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
City Manager Bill Horne said the building's condition is being monitored carefully. Parts of the building have been slowly sinking for a long time now, and it's not considered unsafe.
Said the mayor: "From what I've been told, marbles rolled to the corners of this building the day it opened."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.