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Clearwater zeroes in on Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority downtown terminal for a new City Hall

The city is waiting for the transit authority to leave that site and build a replacement facility on Court Street.

After studying nine other potential sites for a new City Hall this year, the Clearwater City Council is returning to an old option that has been floated for at least a decade.

On Wednesday, the council agreed to tentatively pursue building a City Hall on top of a parking garage with ground floor retail on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s current Park Street bus station site and an adjacent parking lot owned by Pinellas County.

The transit authority has been planning to replace its Park Street terminal with a new intermodal bus station on one vacant acre the city owns at the corner of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue. The city bought the property in 2011 from the then-St. Petersburg Times for a potential rail station.

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, transit authority CEO Brad Miller said he still supports swapping the authority’s Park Street property for the city’s Court Street lot.

A problem is money. The transit authority still does not have the $25 million to construct the new transit center, Miller said.

That leaves the city waiting on transit officials to vacate its current bus station.

“They’re going to need to step up to the plate, because I don’t think we should land bank that property forever,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “They need to go out and either find the money internally, through the county, or through the (federal government), so that something can move forward. But to just keep it as a placeholder decade after decade, I’m starting to get maybe a little bit tired.”

However, the city’s quest for a new government home base has been touch and go as well.

The city in 2006 allocated $25 million in one-cent sales tax funding for a new city hall and parking garage. Officials reduced the allocation this year to $6.3 million.

Over the years, the city also considered building a City Hall on the Court Street property next to the new transit center. And until last summer, the city was in talks with Pinellas County about a potential joint municipal center.

“We will continue to work with city staff to advance the design for an intermodal facility that would meet our current operational needs but also preserve options for future transit technologies including light rail,” Miller said.

To build on the Park Street site, the city would also have to buy the adjacent parking lots from Pinellas County, a purchase that council member Hoyt Hamilton said should be facilitated by transit officials.

“That’s an awful lot of dirt they are trading for the size dirt we’re getting, and they are the ones that are getting the great benefit out of that,” Hamilton said. “I think PSTA ought to step up and help us purchase the county spaces.”

Time is of the essence for transit officials as well.

The transit authority is transitioning to all-electric vehicles, but the current Park Street terminal’s roof is too low for the electric and hybrid buses. Miller said he also plans to install solar panels and charging stations at the new facility.

In case the land swap with the transit authority falls through, the council agreed to consider as a backup the city-owned lot on Myrtle Avenue, just south of its Municipal Services building. The lot borders to the north the Court Street lot eyed by the transit authority, and together, they form about 3 acres of development potential.

This year, the city hired consultants to analyze two of their 10 potential sites. Consultants estimated it could cost between $21 million and $64 million to build a city hall or combined government services center on the Court Street and Myrtle Avenue site.

On Wednesday, Clearwater engineering construction manager Tara Kivett said it could cost upwards of $40 million for a vertically-focused city hall and parking garage.

Also on Wednesday, the council ruled out an option floated recently that would have complicated the ongoing design of the downtown waterfront revitalization project, Imagine Clearwater.

Council members agreed not to build a city hall inside of the Main Library, an option that could have saved millions of dollars but would have been a complicated use of the public space.