PINELLAS PARK — Five years ago, city officials agreed to pay $3-million for a church building, although they didn't have definite plans for its use.
Since then, the city has spent about $500,000 upgrading the church's auditorium to create a Performing Arts Center.
Now, Pinellas Park council members have agreed to spend $49,700 to design an environmentally friendly parking lot that is expected to cost between $400,000 and $500,000.
City officials have not funded the project yet, Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said. The design is needed so the city can apply for grants to help pay for it.
The parking lot will be on the north side of the Performing Arts Center, 4951 78th Ave. N. The area, which is already used for parking, is a grass-covered space with a ditch or swale running through it. The problem, Caddell said, comes when it rains. The area gets muddy, and some people think they can drive across the swale, he said.
When finished, the parking area will have 188 spaces as required by the city's code. But it will not be covered in asphalt, concrete or another impervious surface. The city intends to use Geoweb, a porous pavement system that allows water to seep into the ground rather than run into the streets and drainage systems.
The parking lot will cost "a lot of money because of the technology," Caddell said. But he said it's important to use an environmentally friendly system to preserve the city's limited green space.
Not all council members thought the move was a good idea. Ed Taylor said he thought it was a waste of money to design and build a grass parking lot when the city already has a grass parking lot there. Taylor said he also doubts the city can get a grant. As Taylor understands them, grants come during times of prosperity. Considering the current economy, Taylor wondered whether money would be available. If it is, he said, the line of cities asking for money will be much longer than usual.
Pinellas Park officials bought the property where the arts center is located in 2003 from Pinellas Park Baptist Temple when the church bought the old Joyland entertainment center on U.S. 19 N. The city sold bonds to finance the $3-million purchase, as well as other projects. At the time, officials said they thought the church building could be turned into city offices.
Pinellas Park Baptist Temple remained in the building until 2006. City officials had no plans for the property and rented one of the buildings to the Classical Christian School for the Arts. They turned the other building into a performing arts center.
The $500,000 transformation required new lighting and sound systems, chairs, carpet and toilets. The revamped building debuted as the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center in November 2007 with a free concert by the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra. The opening of the center helped round out the city's available venues for celebrations: the band shell, which is good for outdoor gatherings, and the auditorium, which is suited to smaller events, such as dances.
Since then, Caddell said, the center, which seats 500, has become a popular venue. "They're getting quite a bit of use out of it," he said. "We're doing a lot of wedding receptions."
Rental rates vary. Receptions cost from $400 for four hours during the week to $600 on weekends and holidays. Rental for performances cost $800 for nine hours weekdays and $1,200 for weekends and holidays. The venue was used 64 times during the 2007-08 fiscal year. Of those, 27 were city sponsored, and 37 were rentals earning Pinellas Park a total of about $21,261.