CLEARWATER — Mayor George Cretekos has dropped his four-month long resistance and will now join his colleagues when City Hall moves from its 50-year home on the Bluff into a temporary space on the sixth floor of a downtown office tower in January.
But in a letter to City Manager Bill Horne this week reiterating his original opposition to the move, Cretekos also noted a "disturbing and disconcerting" issue that came up their new landlord since the city signed the five-year lease in August with One Clearwater Tower owner Daniels Ikajevs.
On the day before the failed Nov. 6 referendum that would have transformed the government to give more power to the mayor, Ikajevs was on the third floor of City Hall for an appointment and saw a No Boss Mayor flier on the desk of executive assistant Scott Burrows. Ikajevs snapped a photo with his phone while Burrows' back was turned and sent it to a friend asking "if that was ok for City Hall to take a stance" on the referendum, Ikajevs said.
Burrows said the city manager's office was not passing out anti-strong mayor flyers. Instead, a citizen had mailed the flier to Horne's office with comments, and Burrows was filing the mail for the public record as required, he said.
But over the next few days, Ikajev's photo was circulated among city officials, residents and the media.
"It's not that what he did was illegal, it's just the way he did it," Cretekos said Friday. "It's just the fact he snooped around ... he is going to have complete access to our floor. Now I'm uncomfortable with that."
None of the other council members have raised any concerns with Ikajevs, a downtown investor whose portfolio includes the Waters Edge condo tower, several buildings on the 500 block of Cleveland Street and who is preparing to open a state of the art shared workspace hub in his One Clearwater Tower. Horne said he is also not hesitant about Ikajevs as a landlord since "most of what we deal with is public record" and there are protocols he declined to detail that officials could take to ensure privacy.
"I'm not worried about it," Horne said. "There is a level of trust there that's going to take some time to overcome but he is the landlord and he's going to have access."
Ikajevs said by sharing the photo he was simply inquiring to a friend about the flier and that "we were not spying on anybody."
In his letter, Cretekos reiterated his objections to running a government in a privately owned building without a plan for a new City Hall but conceded to joining his colleagues in the tower because it would have been too burdensome on staff to have an office in the city's Municipal Services Building blocks from the rest of the council.
He advocated waiting to vacate City Hall because the consultants who designed the roughly $50 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan intended for the city to complete the overhaul of Coachman Park and the new concert green before courting developers to transform the City Hall site.
It's unclear when work on establishing a new City Hall can begin. Pinellas County has not yet started a feasibility study into a joint government building with the city, Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell said. Three downtown sites have been identified for a joint facility: the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's bus terminal on Park Street; the city-owned vacant lot at Myrtle Avenue and Court Street; and the county-owned lot at Chestnut Street and East Avenue.
But PSTA is not expected to break ground on a new terminal to replace Park Street until 2021, complicating the timeline.
Ikajevs spent about $97,000 to build out the sixth floor of his office tower to accommodate 50 City Hall employees and about eight departments. The city intended to move into the tower in November but was delayed by planning on the buildout. Maxwell said the city will spend about $4,000 on top of Ikajevs' contribution for the buildout and about $7,500 for moving day costs.
He estimates the city's $1.27 million in rent to Ikajevs over the five-year lease will save $76,000 in operating costs over the same time. About $185,000 the city saved forgoing painting and carpeting upgrades in the aging City Hall has been allocated to transfer broadcasting technology for government meetings to the Main Library during this interim period.
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.