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Dunedin commissioners unclear on fate of Municipal Services Building

DUNEDIN — The Municipal Services Building, opened in 1958, has not exactly aged well.

The city center where locals pay their water bills has cracked walls, a crooked floor and a leaky roof. And the interior, besides being a bit crowded, bears some odd development features, like the electric service panels found in the men's bathroom stall.

Most at City Hall agree that the Milwaukee Avenue building could use some help. But few seem to agree on what to do, when to do it or how to foot the bill.

Brought before commissioners Thursday night, the options on the table nearly all showed fatal flaws that left the building's future foggier than before.

Building a new structure, commissioners said, would be a money pit. Renting would be too inflexible. And even costly repairs to the building, totaling $1.3 million over five years, would yield only 10 more years of use, tops.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito's top option — leasing 14,000 square feet from the as-yet-unbuilt Gateway project — would have helped the Pizzuti developing firm secure financing and lead to quicker construction at the empty plot downtown.

But commissioners felt the price — about $26 per square foot, or at least $2 million over five years — was too much for a temporary sell.

"I don't condemn Pizzuti for saying that's what they need," Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said. "But as a government entity, we can't afford to pay that kind of rent."

The biggest obstacle of the night for commissioners was deciding where to get the money. The city's budget, which includes about eight layoffs, has little breathing room for a big project.

"I feel guilty talking about a $5 to $6 million building," Vice Mayor Dave Carson said Friday, "while telling you you don't have a job."

Officials had suggested using Penny for Pinellas funds, the 1-cent sales tax proceeds slated for capital construction. But commissioners worried about adding another debt to a fund already weighed down with payments for the construction of the community center.

Officials are now considering a new idea, DiSpirito said, that would move the municipal services employees next door into a new wing attached to the Technical Services building. Yet there's no promise that commissioners will take it more kindly than they did any of the other ideas.

"I don't see a sense of urgency," Commissioner Julie Scales said. "We really need to look at what is important for us to do, and instead prioritize that. Forget these shell games."

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin commissioners unclear on fate of Municipal Services Building 08/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 8:04pm]
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