1. Pinellas

Could downtown Dunedin have a cinema bistro? City commissioners want to know.

DUNEDIN — A privately owned cinema and restaurant could be part of a new City Hall and municipal services complex if commissioners have their way.

The feature became part of the discussion June 20 as the City Commission tweaked revised plans for the complex, which will be constructed on property bordered by Virginia Street, Highland Avenue, Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue on parcels intersected by Louden Avenue.

Deputy City Manager Doug Hutchens said the latest plans envision City Hall and a municipal-technical services building constructed on the east parcel, with an address of 727 Louden Avenue.

The parcel would include a 1½-story City Hall chamber with seating for 137, replacing the current 81-seat auditorium, along with a two-story municipal services building.

The first floor will include offices for utility billing, permitting, the city clerk and a community police officer. The second floor will include offices for city staff and commissioners.

"We will be replacing functionally obsolete buildings — buildings that are not energy-efficient, buildings that are high-maintenance and no longer serve the best interest of the community in delivering services," Hutchens said.

"One of the benefits of consolidation is that there are opportunities to share conference and break rooms, restrooms and reception areas, which reduces redundancies," he added. "It will also improve exchange of communication. It will break down silos and open communication between department heads, division directors and staff."

After some voiced concern about the height of the proposed garage, its size was reduced from three to two stories. The building's height will be designed to top 25 feet, but may be as tall as 35 feet if solar panels are installed at a cost of $2.5 million.

The revised design will offer 282 parking spaces rather than the initially proposed 335. However, 71 on-street angled parking spaces will be provided along Highland Avenue.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes pushed for a more ornamental design, saying she did not want the structure to look like a typical sterile garage. Hutchens told her that was possible, but it will raise the cost of the garage, currently estimated at $6.2 million.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski agreed with Kynes, saying, "We want something different than gray openings."

Commissioner Heather Gracy said she was happy to see plans for a "Taj Mahal" parking garage scaled down.

Hutchens said the revised design eliminated plans for a second restaurant and offices along Virginia Avenue, while still providing space for one 4,200-square-foot restaurant along Highland Avenue and townhomes on Wood Street.

Developers would purchase the parcels set aside for the restaurant and townhomes. Proceeds from the sale of those parcels, which is estimated at around $845,600, would be used to help defray project costs. The city also plans to sell its remaining Gateway parcel and recoup $1.36 million for the project.

Commissioner Jeff Gow renewed his desire to see a community theater included in the project. Bujalski said she spoke with Ruth Eckerd Hall officials about Gow's suggestion and was told it's too close to the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater to be viable.

She suggested the city try to attract a cinema bistro similar to those operated by Cobb Cinema. With food service, "it would be different enough from Capitol Theatre and be something cool," Bujalski said.

If city officials cannot find an entrepreneur interested in a cinema bistro, they can go back to offering the parcel for a restaurant, she added.

Others on the five-member commission supported Bujalski's suggestion for staff to seek a developer interested in operating a cinema bistro.

"I can't wait. I am really excited about the project," Kynes said. "This is going to be around for a long, long, long, long time. … This is something we are going to be proud of for the next 100 years."

Commissioners unanimously accepted a staff recommendation to award $1.86 million to Harvard Jolly Inc. to design the new City Hall and garage.

Cost of the total project, which should take two years to complete, is estimated at $24.7 million. The money will come from a variety of funds in the budget, with the largest amount — $17.4 million — from the Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax.

The city will ask Florida Power to submit an estimate on how much it will cost to put its power lines underground and install old-fashioned street lights on the site.

During the two-year construction process, which will require city offices and staff to be relocated, the city will hold a town hall meeting to solicit public comment, and city commissioners will conduct hearings and vote on a final site plan.