MADEIRA BEACH — If all goes according to plan, construction of a new City Hall, fire station and recreational complex will begin in the fall.
That was the unanimous decision of the City Commission on Tuesday as it went all-in on a project estimated to cost about $9 million.
The decision to approve both Phase 1 (the City Hall and fire station) and Phase 2 (a new recreation building and ballfields) was made despite lingering opposition from a handful of residents.
"If we keep kicking the can down the road, it will only get more expensive," said Mayor Travis Palladeno. "The city was talking about building a new City Hall nine years ago. I wonder what it would have cost if we had done it then?"
The existing City Hall is plagued with roof and window leaks, repeated mold infestations, failing air conditioning systems and even fire hazards in the portion of the building that houses the fire department.
Vice Mayor Terry Lister stressed that the current low interest environment makes it a "perfect time" to borrow money.
By replacing the aging and deteriorating City Hall and fire station and building a new recreation complex, the city will help to improve property values and increase revenues, Lister said.
Current plans call for a 9,500-square-foot City Hall building, a multipurpose building of 8,050 square feet, and a 7,900-square-foot fire station.
The new recreation center includes spaces that could be rented for parties, weddings, and other activities, open parkland along the waterfront, a softball field, a Little League field, and a flexible multipurpose field that could be used for softball, Little League or other activities.
"We will become a bigger and better city," Lister said.
The commission listened virtually without comment as residents and former city officials asked the present commission to delay a decision for at least several months.
Opponents to the project primarily criticized spending money on the recreation portion of the project when the city still needs to dedicate dollars to repairing roads and drainage.
"A new municipal complex will make everybody feel great, but I am pleading with you not to rush in to spend our money," said resident Debbie Weinstein.
Resident Peter Pisiciotta accused the commission of not doing its due diligence to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.
"Consider making this more palatable to residents … that instead of improving the ballfield, you improve drainage and streets," said Jim Madden, a former city manager, who accused Palladeno of not holding to his campaign promise to improve the city's neighborhoods.
"Do you really want to put this little city of 4,200 people in debt by $10 million?" asked Marvin Merrill, a former commissioner.
"My God, we are a little town. We shouldn't be borrowing a huge amount of money to build anything," said Martha Boos, also a former commissioner.
But there were a number of residents — including other former officials — who strongly supported the projects.
Armando Castellon, who is a structural engineer, said the city would waste money if it tried to fix the current 1950s-era City Hall.
"The day a hurricane hits, this building is gone," he said.
Steve Kochick, a former commissioner and mayoral candidate, criticized people opposed to spending money to improve the city.
"If you don't have enough money to live on the beach, I am sorry. Move. Stop holding us back," he said.
After listening to comments for nearly an hour, the commission voted unanimously not only to implement both phases, but to authorize the city manager and city attorney to hire bond counsel and begin preparing documents for a 30-year bond, and to pay Wannemacher Jensen, Architects $866,178 to draw up final plans for the new buildings.
"The city can afford it," City Manager Shane Crawford said after the meeting. "Going after a remodel project just wasn't feasible."
Construction could begin as early as September, he said.
The existing City Hall will continue to function during construction of the new buildings and will not be demolished until city officials can transfer to the new buildings.
Crawford and the city's finance director, Vincent Tenaglia, are also working on financing options for how the city's other infrastructure needs will be met.
"We have begun planning on all the projects. This (the municipal complex) is just the first to come for a decision," Crawford said.
Crawford said it may be several months before the next set of building plans is ready to show to the public. It will also take months for the financing to be completed.
"We will continue to keep the public involved," he said.