MADEIRA BEACH – A lack of enthusiasm for a proposed new Madeira Beach city center was evident from both commission members and the half dozen or so residents who attended an “interactive” discussion of the project.
The session, held Sept. 11 at city hall, was seen as an opportunity for commissioners and citizens to informally interact with the architects designing the project, asking questions and providing direct feedback. As it turned out, the residents attending barely outnumbered the architects.
Following the give-and-take session, those who commented were skeptical of the expected benefits of the city center versus the costs of building it.
Jason Jensen of Wannemacher Jensen Architects at the start of the meeting presented a look at the revised master plan for the municipal center project. Jensen said he hoped the presentation would “get the creative juices flowing and spark some ideas” among the participants in the interactive session to follow.
The chief revision to the initial plan presented at an earlier meeting was the addition of the athletic fields and recreation center to the project. A reconfiguring of the playing fields and construction of a new recreation center “on a point with a great view of the water” was proposed, at a cost of $3 million.
Fences along the water would be removed and a new walkway built, “providing a wonderful place to walk a loop and have nice views,” Jensen said.
The new fire station would have a drive in and out bay completely separated from the pedestrian and visitor traffic at city hall.
A single row of parking would be spread along the edge of the city hall building, getting people closer to the front entrance.
A multipurpose building with a fitness center and multipurpose room would be separate from city hall, so functions could be held there while city hall was locked and secure. All city hall offices would be as close to the water as possible, Jensen said. Open office spaces are planned, and corridors would be eliminated. Floor plans have been worked through with city staff members to meet their needs.
Pictures of buildings in Key West and other Florida cities were shown as examples of what the proposed Key West style architecture would look like. Recent city hall trends that favor buildings with large overhangs and columns were also shown.
Other ideas for the complex included a boardwalk experience similar to John’s Pass Village, and fountains to play in. Steps to the city hall entry, needed because of the building elevation required, were seen as also offering “a place to sit and meet a friend.”
All buildings would be constructed of sustainable, energy-efficient materials, and allow plenty of natural light.
The city center complex is envisioned as a family friendly, fun place to be, Jensen said.
“We want the city hall to serve people in a civic and business way, but also to be a place for pleasure events and a source of civic pride,” he said.
Fronting the multi-purpose building would be a town square, where people could meet and mingle, Jensen said. Canopies would provide shade. Movies on the lawn could be held in this area.
Following the presentation, residents and commission members were invited to meet with the architects “and tell us what qualities and environment your city hall complex should possess.”
Those who spoke afterward during the public comment portion offered few ideas, but had a lot of concerns about the project’s cost and its financing.
“How are we going to pay for this,” former Commissioner Marv Merrill wanted to know. Borrowing the $5 million Merrill estimated would be needed to finish the project would cost the city about $300,000 a year in interest payments, he said. Property taxes would have to be raised by up to 15 percent to finance the project, Merrill said.
Resident Bill Mohns estimated the average household would pay $2,600 to build the city center.
“The project is not fiscally responsible,” he said. “We have a lot of needs that are a lot more important than a $6 million city hall,” Mohns said.
Mohn’s wife June said she was frustrated that a needs analysis of the project was not done. The city has an older population that would make limited use of amenities such as a fitness center, she said.
Commission members were reluctant to move the municipal center complex forward without getting more input on its viability.
Mayor Travis Palladeno said he believes in the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle.
“We’re a small city with 4,200 people,” he said. “It seems strange to spend millions of dollars on 4,200 residents.”
Vice Mayor Robin Vander Velde said she definitely wants to look at the different options available to pay for the city center. Commissioner Terry Lister said he needs to hear from more residents “before I can go forward with a $6 million project.”
More input is needed on what the people want, Palladeno agreed.
“Everybody needs to be comfortable with it,” he said. “If not, we don’t spend the largest price tag we’ve had in quite some time.”