INDIAN SHORES — Residents will have a chance to tour their new $4.5 million town hall Saturday evening while enjoying a bird's-eye view of their annual holiday boat parade.
The auditorium, where the town party will be held, opens onto a large, covered balcony that stretches the entire length of the building's fourth floor and has an expansive view of the Intracoastal Waterway.
"We will have the best view in town for the boat parade," Mayor Jim Lawrence said.
The event marks the first official community gathering at the new four-story municipal building (three finished floors, with parking beneath) that replaces a now-demolished half-century-old building that Lawrence says would not have survived another hurricane.
The new town hall, at 19305 Gulf Blvd., was built to withstand Category 5 hurricane winds, and includes a locked vault built to even higher standards where city records are kept.
The recently finished 24,000-square-foot structure is three times the size of the old one-story town hall and has three elevators, two for the public and one for the police department. The ground floor provides secure parking for police vehicles.
The second floor houses the building and police departments, including two holding cells. Offices and a 5,000-book public library are on the third floor.
A large auditorium dominates the fourth floor where the town council and community groups hold meetings and events.
Vistas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway can be seen from virtually every office, as well as from balconies on each floor.
The municipal center was designed by Arc 3 Architecture and built by Hennessy Construction, both of St. Petersburg.
The town paid for the new building with a combination of Penny for Pinellas capital funds and a $2.5 million loan, which it expects to pay off with new Penny funds within the next 10 years.
In 2005, this town of about 1,400 permanent residents also spent $6.3 million to bury utility lines along Gulf Boulevard, financed largely by utility and communications taxes. The town expects to be reimbursed for much of that cost by Pinellas County.
In a separate project, the Florida Department of Transportation spent about $20 million in state funds on roadway improvements along Gulf Boulevard, including installation of a bicycle lane.
When asked why the town would spend so much money in the past six years, Lawrence said his residents "love their town" and have "a lot of pride" that is reflected in their willingness to pay for needed improvements.
And even with all that capital spending, Indian Shores still has more than $2 million in reserves and a relatively low property tax rate of 1.85 mills ($185 for every $1,000 of taxable value after exemptions).
Lawrence and his city council held their first council meeting in the new building last month, even as the old town hall was being torn down.
This week workers were still installing landscaping and pavers in the now much larger parking lot. A circular area at the main entrance will feature a flag pole and special brick pavers that residents, businesses for inscriptions at prices that range from $75 to $150.
Funds raised from the brick sale will be used to improve community areas in and around the new municipal center.
Up to 200 people are expected to attend Saturday's holiday party.
The event is open to residents and property owners who will gather from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the fourth-floor auditorium at the new center. Attendees must show a driver's license or a utility bill showing their address.