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Clearwater leans toward a City Hall on current site

The city won't renovate the City Hall Annex building and make it city headquarters after all _ at least for now.

Commissioner Fred Thomas on Thursday ended his push for renovating the building and joined his fellow commissioners in considering plans for a new building on the current site at 112 S Osceola Ave.

Renovating the 32-year-old annex under current hurricane standards would be too costly to make the project worthwhile, said Thomas, who has disagreed with the need for meeting the standard. The other commissioners said they would have wanted the building reinforced to withstand 103-mph winds.

"My original idea isn't worth it, based on where we are now," Thomas said.

Commissioners have changed their minds on City Hall several times within the past year. The original plan was to consolidate city operations into one building. That could have been accomplished with a new building, or by moving into the former SunBank building, which the city bought in March and still owns. City officials are negotiating to sell the building to an Ohio-based developer.

Before the SunBank option, commissioners were considering building on the current City Hall site.

In April, after Thomas took office, commissioners voted to sell the former SunBank building. Thomas then began to push his idea for renovating the annex building.

Because of the costs associated with meeting hurricane standards, he changed his mind Thursday. Thomas had said he expected renovations to cost no more than $2-million. But consultants told commissioners last month that renovations could cost about $4.6-million.

The annex aside, commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to study the possibility of an 80,000-square-foot building that could be used in conjunction with the current building, which has 24,000 square feet. They don't want to spend more than $7-million on the new building, they said.

The $7-million wouldn't include renovating the current City Hall, landscaping or furnishings, commissioners said. Other factors, such as options for parking, could drive up the price, commissioners said Thursday night.

But the $7-million figure, commissioners said, is considerably less than early estimates for a new building, which were as high as $15-million.

Although they voted with the other commissioners to study the current City Hall site, Mayor Rita Garvey and Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald said they preferred to build a city hall on the annex site at Missouri Avenue and Cleveland Street.

"If we're going to truly do what our mission is, which is consolidate City Hall at a reasonable cost, it has to be on the annex property," Garvey said.

Commissioners Sue Berfield and Art Deegan said they preferred building at the current City Hall.

Thomas said that, in part, he changed his position and voted for the current site in the spirit of cooperation.

"I would like the board to come to grips with building a new, consolidated City Hall so we can put this issue behind us," he said.