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City Hall decision may go to voters

(ran Beach edition)

A majority of the city commissioners want the voters to decide whether a new City Hall should be built.

In the meantime, they plan to hire an architect and appoint a committee to research their options.

During a two-hour workshop Tuesday, commissioners discussed the possibilities of remodeling, replacing and relocating their 40-year-old City Hall.

"Politically, this isn't the easiest thing to deal with," said Commissioner Ward Friszolowski. "It's easier just to not deal with it, but we can't ignore it anymore. Our city facilities are falling apart at this point."

While he favored the appointment of a citizens committee, Friszolowski, an architect, said he did not think the ultimate decision should go to a referendum.

But Commissioner John Bailey was adamant.

"I do not want to be on the receiving end of a report," he said. "If we are part of this process we are accountable to the people."

A committee, he said, "is just not the same as being there and it being debated in the public arena." He polled the commissioners on whether they would take the issue to the voters.

Mayor Ron McKenney and Commissioner John Phillips Jr. said they would prefer a referendum.

Commissioner Jim Myers said he didn't know whether he would support a referendum, but he did recommend the planning process be completed by the fall, in time to put the issue on the ballot for the March election.

At their meeting Tuesday, each commissioner is expected to appoint a member from his district to the citizens committee. They also plan to appoint two at-large members.

Meanwhile, commissioners asked City Manager Carl Schwing to prepare some estimates of how much the planning will cost and how long it will take. He also intends to draft a proposal of the scope of the job for architects.

The current city budget does not include money to study the City Hall issue, Schwing said. But he said commissioners could make a special appropriation.

On Tuesday, commissioners also decided that the architects selected for the planning cannot be considered as candidates for the final job.

St. Petersburg architect Richard Kimbrough, who has been working with the city on possible renovations since 1983, made a presentation Tuesday night about all of the previous plans that had been proposed.

Kimbrough said he did not know whether he would apply to draft the latest architectural plans based on the commission's rule that would exclude him from the final project.

In the past 15 years, Kimbrough has submitted five sets of plans to the city for redevelopment of the 6.4-acre waterfront property that have included everything from a marina to a new City Hall.

In 1996, Kimbrough was paid about $10,400 for his latest proposals. He provided the city with architectural plans to renovate City Hall and demolish the Misener building or annex. He also suggested tearing down the annex and putting the city offices adjacent to City Hall. Another option included demolishing all the existing structures and building a new 17,000-square-foot city administration center. The last option, the cheapest of the three, was estimated two years ago to cost $2.8-million.

Kimbrough said St. Pete Beach City Hall is one of his favorite architectural structures in the area.

"I have a lot of empathy for this building," he said.

Among the responsibilities of the new committee will be to determine the value of the City Hall building at 7701 Boca Ciega Drive, the space requirements of the city departments and the best options for meeting those needs. Pinellas County tax records, according to city staff, show the City Hall building has dropped in value in the past year from $315,000 to $302,000. Those figures did not include the land.

The value of the building is significant because renovations could be restricted to 50 percent of that value by federal flood insurance rules.

Bailey said he was upset that the possibility of renovation has not being fully explored. For instance, he said, city staff members have presented figures that limit renovations to the City Hall building at $20,000.

Based on the city's own formula, available at the city building department, $188,750 of renovations could be done at City Hall. The city might be able to do more work than that, Bailey said, if there was an urgent safety concern, according to federal rules.

"They want to try to rule out renovation, which is the least costly and the best road to go," Bailey said.

The citizens committee will be asked to review all of the waterfront facilities, including City Hall, the old police station building, the Legion Hall, joined by indoor walkways at the center of the property, and the annex building on 75th Avenue, sold to the city in 1983 by former Mayor Richard Misener.

Current renovation needs at City Hall include a new roof, a new air conditioning system and the replacement of steel columns.

_ Times staff writer Christina Headrick contributed to this report.