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Belleair Beach residents to get look at city hall plans

(ran Beach edition)

Monday could be a big night for the proposed city hall and community center.

A public presentation of a preliminary site plan is scheduled and then the City Council is expected to discuss and possibly act on:

+ A $2.8-million financing package.

+ Authorizing architects to begin preliminary drawings of the building itself.

"I hope we will do something," Presiding Officer Bert Cutler said Wednesday following a similar public presentation of a conceptual site plan, as well as preliminary county plans for a high-rise bridge that would replace the Belleair Beach causeway and bridge.

The more than 50 residents who attended Wednesday's meeting were concerned mainly that the new building have more space for community activities and that the cost not force an increase in property taxes.

The city will have about $500,000 saved by the end of 2004 and plans to finance the balance of the estimated $2.6-million to $2.8-million cost by selling bonds. The city also is hoping that once the project is approved, some of the cost will be offset by state and federal grants available for community centers.

Planning for the new city hall-community center began three years ago. Ward Friszolowski, St. Pete Beach's mayor whose day job is architect with Harvard Jolly Clees Toppe, presented a preliminary site plan. Here are the highlights:

+ The new building will be placed to the rear (southern end) of the existing City Hall at 444 Causeway Blvd.

+ A heavily landscaped parking lot will be located at the front of the site along the causeway.

+ City tennis courts will be moved from the back of the site to the front, near the base of the bridge and the city's waterfront park.

+ The new building will house all city offices, including the police and maintenance departments, as well as meeting rooms and facilities for community activities.

+ Because it is in the flood zone, the building will be raised with parking underneath for city vehicles.

+ There is no decision as yet regarding the final height of the new city hall-community center. Architects are leaning toward one story above parking, while some city officials and citizens prefer two stories over parking _ one floor for city offices, with the top floor reserved for community activities.

+ During the estimated one-year construction time, the present buildings would remain open. When finished, existing city hall-police department and maintenance buildings will be torn down. The Verizon substation will remain, however, just in front of the proposed location of the new building.

County officials told residents they would preserve Dog Beach as well as pedestrian access to the causeway beaches.

The proposed bridge would be similar in height to the Sand Key Bridge but have a more gradual slope. The bridge will have two lanes for traffic, as well as combination breakdown shoulders-bike lanes and 8-foot-wide sidewalks.

The entrance to the boat ramp area on the east side of the bridge will be redesigned, with additional parking for cars and larger boat parking spaces. Dog Beach will be accessed from the north side of the causeway by going under the bridge from the boat ramp parking area.

The 200-foot free span area will allow for a larger channel for boat traffic, while the causeway roadway will be raised slightly to reduce flooding during storms.

County officials said more public meetings will be held before plans for the new bridge are finalized. Preliminary designs are expected to be completed by March, with final designs and bid documents completed by mid-2005.

The new bridge will be located slightly to the north of the existing bridge, which will remain open during construction.