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Tampa halts brick sale to city of Winter Park

The incident brings into question whether purchasing can sell city property without council approval.

Talk about an idea that went over like a ton of bricks. Make that hundreds of tons of bricks.

City Council members voted Thursday to stop selling thousands of old, clay street bricks to the city of Winter Park, which is restoring a historic downtown brick street.

Last week, the council learned Tampa purchasing officials had made a deal to sell the Central Florida city as many as 500,000 bricks for $150,000, or 30 cents apiece.

Council members were angry that Winter Park had been allowed to cart away 130,000 bricks before the council could vote on the deal and said the city should keep the hard-to-find bricks for projects in Tampa.

"If they delivered any bricks, bring 'em back," said council chairman Charlie Miranda. "I'm a hardheaded guy from Ybor City. Don't play games with me."

Returning the bricks won't be an easy job. Nearly all of them have been laid on Park Avenue, said James English, Winter Park's public works director. The city has spent about $78,000 putting the bricks on palates, wrapping them with plastic and steel bands and trucking them to Winter Park.

The two cities can work out an amicable agreement on the rest of the bricks, English said, but Winter Park won't give up the ones already in the ground.

"There's just no way," he said. "We feel it was a valid agreement."

Tampa's public works department had tried for years to unload part of its stockpile of about 1-million street bricks.

Dug up over decades of street repairs and repaving, the bricks were taking up too much space at the city's incinerator site. Tampa would still have plenty to repair the city's brick streets for years to come, officials said.

Winter Park officials had looked as far as Chicago to find enough bricks to rebuild 1 mile of Park Avenue, its quaint main street lined with fancy shops and pricey restaurants. Only one manufacturer still makes the heavy-duty street bricks, English said. Those were the wrong color and looked too new to match the ones on Park Avenue.

Winter Park officials were delighted when Tampa agreed to sell 250,000 bricks with the option for 250,000 more. But historic preservationists and Tampa City Council members were shocked when they heard about the deal.

The city or private developers could use the bricks to rebuild old streets or give projects like an electric trolley from downtown to Ybor City an authentic look, said council member Linda Saul-Sena.

"They'll need bunches of bricks for the trolley stops," she said. "Why not use them in (redeveloping) Tampa Heights? All that aside, it's a terrible business deal. Don't sell them for 30 cents when they're worth $3 or $4."

The controversy raised another touchy question: Can the purchasing department sell city property without the council's consent?

Purchasing director Joan Tronco McConnell said the city charter allows her to dispose of any amount of property on her own.

City attorney James Palermo believes the answer isn't that clear. The purchasing staff asked the council to accept $75,000 as payment for the first load of bricks and approve the sale of the second 250,000. "If they don't have to go to the City Council, why did it go to City Council?" Palermo asked.

He expected to sort out that question and figure out if the city has a binding contract with Winter Park by today.

English said Winter Park intends to pay when it has the first 250,000 bricks. Each one weighs about 8 pounds, he said, and it costs more than 60 cents apiece to move them to Winter Park _ twice as much as Tampa is getting under the deal.

The city has enough bricks to finish the initial 3,000 feet of Park Avenue, English said, but he didn't know what will happen with the rest if Tampa reneges on the deal.

"It's kind of baffling; they must have a million sitting on palates out there," English said. "We went through the rejects. It's an unbelievable amount."