PINELLAS PARK — As all of us eventually must, city asset 3339 has gone to a better place.
The passing of city-owned property is seldom cause for an obit, but 3339 held a special place in the annals of Pinellas Park government.
Some, like council member Rick Butler, saw it as an irritant. But former council member Patricia Bailey-Snook saw it as "the only bright thing" in City Hall. (Presumably she was talking about its appearance and was not making a comment on her fellow council members.)
In the innocent days just before 9/11, asset 3339 became the vehicle for pranks and a pawn in negotiating the city's representative on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board. City officials also tried to gain fame for Pinellas Park by entering it into a national contest. Surprisingly, 3339 did not place.
Like many of the famous who are known by one name, 3339 became known as "the couch," a moniker usually followed by snickers.
"The couch'' was ugly. Famously ugly.
Described officially as three-cushion yellow, green and brown model 225-5, the couch came to Pinellas Park in 1976 when officials hired a decorator to spiff up City Hall. Officials paid Southland Office Supply Co. $931.16 (about $3,494.35 in today's dollars) on Jan. 9, 1976, for the multicolored designer piece. It was expected to last five years.
But the couch defied the odds by lasting 32 years before the end came on April 10. It made the rounds, starting off in what used to be a lounge next to the city manager's office, then going to such diverse places as the Millie Clark Senior Center and the women's lounge on the second floor of City Hall before landing in its permanent spot in the City Council's office.
The couch lay low until Butler was elected in 1998. He hated the dizzying color scheme and, in August 2001, tried to give the couch away to various people in the Police Department, including Chief Dorene Thomas, who declined.
Butler threatened that the couch would soon take a trip: "Somebody's going to get the couch. I don't know when, where, how or anything about it. It's going somewhere real quick, though. … It's going traveling."
Bailey-Snook was not amused. About a week later, Butler offered her a deal: He would let the couch remain if Bailey-Snook would take his place on the PSTA board. She accepted, apparently not noticing that his fingers were crossed.
Less than a month later, the couch appeared one morning in then-Assistant City Manager Mike Gustafson's office in the public works building. Bailey-Snook was seriously irked.
The couch was returned to the council office, where it remained until Bailey-Snook's retirement party. City officials, in a burst of generosity, decided to donate the thing to the Angel Fund. Bailey-Snook founded the fund to help Pinellas Park residents who needed one-time financial help for small items like an electric bill.
The couch brought $3,000 — $1,000 each from Chamber of Commerce president Housh Ghovaee, local business owner Bonnie Lewis and council member Jerry Mullins. The three then donated it to Bailey-Snook.
Alas, a city employee ran over the couch with a forklift. Pictures of the damage were prohibited.
"Out of respect," said Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell. "We wanted to remember it as it was."
The pillows were salvaged and sent to Bailey-Snook.
But the couch had the last laugh. City rules require that any employee who is involved in an accident in which there is more than $100 damage be tested for drugs. Because the thing had been auctioned for $3,000, the employee had to undergo the test.
He was clean.