DADE CITY — Walking through downtown, it can be easy to forget about the current economic turmoil. There are antique stores, quaint eateries and maybe even a classic car or two parked along the side of the road.
This is a town where one of the most pressing issues facing city commissioners is park vandalism, and where the priorities for the future include a forward-thinking recycling program and free wireless Internet access downtown.
But even Dade City isn't immune from the trials of today's economy.
A little more than a block away from the main drag is an old building, originally designed to be a hotel, now divided up and converted into office space.
When a window breaks, a sheet of plywood is put up in its place. When the roof leaks, a patch is put over it. Last winter, city employees worked through part of the season in heavy coats because of problems with the heating system overloading the building's circuits.
Now hurricane season is upon us, a time of summer storms with heavy rains and winds.
City Manager William Poe said fixing up the building — including a new roof, new windows and work on the stucco facade — would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $250,000. The problem, of course, is that money is tight.
Poe said even without the repairs, he is not expecting any serious problems. Staff is prepared, and the building is solidly built.
The exterior dates back to the 1920s, when construction began on a three-story hotel downtown. But work was suspended after the 1929 stock market crash, and the hotel was never finished. The city bought the property sometime later, and by the 1940s the structure was fashioned into City Hall.
Over the years, officials have learned how to fortify the building. City fire and code inspector Ray Timer said in the event of a storm, the city already has sheets of plywood to put over windows and sandbags to keep water from flooding through the doors.
According to the official report for the building's last fire inspection, which Timer conducted, the building is up to code.
However, Timer said there are some issues that may come up during a major storm, like water that might leak in through some windows during a heavy rain. And there's the problem of what will happen if the power goes out for more than a few hours.
"One drawback is that there's no emergency generator there," Timer said. "All functions during power outages, like when we had Hurricane Jeanne, we actually operated out of the City Hall annex, because we have an emergency generator that controls the whole building."
Timer also said there are other costly issues to address if the city decides to occupy the entire building or make major renovations.
There is a problem with mold in the unoccupied old jail area, Timer said, and the building would need an additional fire escape, a new sprinkler system, interior stair wells, and other costly improvements.
Poe said the city is looking at numerous options to raise funds at least for the repairs to the roof, windows, and facade.
"We're looking at stimulus money, grant money, any kind of money we can get," Poe said.