1. Pinellas

Treasure Island plans a new City Hall solution

TREASURE ISLAND — In what officials called the "worst-kept secret" in Treasure Island history, the commission revealed Tuesday that it is considering spending $8 million to buy and renovate a glass-clad Allied Insurance office building as the city's much-needed new city hall.

During the process, there will be a minimum of four public hearings when residents can weigh in on the idea.

The first opportunity for residents to react to the proposal will be May 21 when the commission will take the first of two votes on an ordinance authorizing seeking approval to borrow not more than $8 million to acquire and renovate the 37-year-old Allied Insurance building, at 10451 Gulf Boulevard just north of 104th Avenue.

Because of a charter provision, four of the city's five commissioners will have to approved the financing.

If everything goes according to plan, commissioners will cast a final vote to authorize borrowing the needed funds at their June 4 meeting, seek bids from banks over the next few months, and hold two more public hearings to close the loan and sale by October, according to Finance Director Amy Davis.

Although no property taxes will be pledged to guarantee the loan, Davis said the city may have to raise property taxes by $0.25 per $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value. That would be about about $75 in taxes on a house valued at $300,000 after all property exemptions.

This would generate about $475,000 in revenue that will be used to pay for city operating costs and free up other tax revenues to pay for the loan's debt service.

The entire cost of the new city hall appears to be far below the estimated $21 million cost to build a new municipal complex on city park property, a proposal that was sharply rejected by residents last year.

The city's administrative building is more than 60 years old and was found to be in poor shape more than 20 years ago.

Several years ago, the city hired Harvard Jolly Architects to analyze the city's needs and determine the best location of a new municipal complex.

One of the architectural firm's solutions was to convert the current municipal complex into a public waterfront park and/or a public-private partnership that could generate revenue and help to offset the cost of a new municipal complex.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Treasure Island zeroing in on new home for city government

The architects recommended moving the municipal complex to park property adjacent to the city's recreation center. The new building would encompass about the same area (44,000 square feet), much less than the 75,000 square feet of space the city originally thought it needed.

The proposed new building at the park location was also to house the police and fire departments.

But, hardly anyone liked the idea and the commission instead directed the city staff to come up with a different solution to replace the city's aging and deteriorating city hall on 107th Avenue.

That new idea that became public Tuesday is to buy the 1982 Allied Insurance Building. The current owner, which purchased the building in 1996, is T.H.E. Insurance Company.

City Manager Garry Brumback said he is "cautiously optimistic" that buying and converting the office building would receive positive feedback from the community.

"We are all going to be very happy. We got a deal, you guys," said Commissioner Heidi Horak, who said she has received "100 percent" approval from residents she has contacted.

The city's park, a city parking lot, and its recreation/community center are directly behind the Allied building.

That building has more than enough space to fulfill the city's administrative needs with five stories and thousands of square feet of space.

Commissioner Horak said the unneeded space could be rented out to generate revenue for the city.

"This is a fantastic option," said Commissioner Tyler Payne. "This preserves this property and the park. It is great not to have to use any of our existing land to build a new building."