CLEARWATER — For at least the next five years, City Hall will be moved from its landmark perch on the Bluff and into the sixth floor of a prominent office tower downtown.
The offices of city council, city manager, city clerk, city attorney, the Clearwater redevelopment agency and economic development will move on Nov. 1 to the sixth floor of One Clearwater Tower at 600 Cleveland St.
The council voted 4-1 Thursday to pay the tower’s owner, Daniels Ikajevs, $1.27 million over the five-year lease. Mayor George Cretekos voted no.
Officials pitched the move as a temporary measure to free up the aging City Hall so it can be demolished and the site can be redeveloped into a residential or retail project as called for in the $52 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan.
The problem is that the city has not determined yet where a new City Hall will be built. And the $6.3 million of Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue to pay for a new government center will not even come available until 2024.
But with the Imagine Clearwater plan, still in design phase, already two months behind schedule, officials said the city must send a message it is making progress.
"With Imagine Clearwater, this lot is going to get used in a much more beneficial manner for the city of Clearwater than being City Hall," Council member Hoyt Hamilton said. "We can do this business from just about anywhere."
But on that point, Cretekos could not disagree more.
He vehemently argued against taking away an independent government center from the public, giving the perception officials were "going to go hide on the sixth floor" of a tower.
Cretekos said he will not join his colleagues in One Clearwater Tower and requested he be given an office in the city’s Municipal Services Building a few blocks away on S Myrtle Avenue.
"We decided to do this because we wanted to send a message," Cretekos said. "And what’s the message? The message is that we don’t have any money for a City Hall building, so let’s go for five years into this tower."
Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell estimates the move will save the city $15,319 per year in operating costs and prevent the city from having to make $185,000 in immediate repairs to City Hall. He said the city can also now forgo $2.1 million in plumbing, electrical and HVAC improvements needed if employees were to stay in the 50-year-old building much longer.
The contract with Ikajevs does not include parking for the roughly four dozen City Hall employees, and city workers will have to park in the nearby Garden Avenue garage or Station Square. But Ikajevs will spend $97,680 to build-out the floor plan to accommodate the various departments, according to the contract.
Ikajevs, 37, has built a broad portfolio of downtown properties over the past several years. Along with One Clearwater Tower, which is anchored by Bank of America, he owns the Waters Edge condominium tower, five storefronts along the 500 block of Cleveland Street, and other parcels.
Last year, the city gave Ikajevs a $600,000 Community Redevelopment Agency grant to help build his $1.8 million project called The Ring, a coworking venue where small businesses and entrepreneurs buy memberships to work communally with amenities and networking opportunities.
Ikajevs said the 5-year renewal option in the lease should incentivize city officials to follow through with building City Hall before the first term expires but that he would be open to extending the lease on a shorter, annual basis if necessary.
The city is in discussions to build a joint governmental center with Pinellas County, and three downtown sites have been identified: 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.
In the meantime, Ikajevs said a City Hall marker will be added to the building’s outdoor monument sign to make its presence clear. Citizens will be free to visit their government, and security measures will be in place.
And while Cretekos said he will not keep his main office in the tower, the floor plan has carved out space for him there anyway.
"Ideally I’d love to win the mayor’s heart so we’ll do as much as possible to accommodate whatever is the needs of City Hall," Ikajevs said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.