DUNEDIN – After many years of waiting, the city of Dunedin is moving forward with plans for a new municipal services building.
About a decade ago, the city had purchased the First Baptist Church site downtown to build a new municipal services annex, said City Manager Rob DiSpirito. However, that was when the economy was still booming and the Penny for Pinellas funds were growing each year. Now, the site is still vacant and is being used as additional parking for the downtown.
“It was purchased for an envisioned entirely new governmental center for the city,” DiSpirito said. “I think with the current economic situation and with other capital priorities that we have as a city and the estimation of what it would cost to build a brand new facility for all city employees and offices that are now located here in City Hall and the Municipal Services Building and the Technical Services Building, including the sheriff would be a very cost-prohibitive challenge. So the thought was, let’s look at something a little more modest.”
City staff assessed the current Technical Services Building, located at 737 Louden Ave. This building currently houses Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office workers for the area, and staff determined that the building could be rehabilitated in order to relocate the City Commission chambers and offices as well as the employees who work at the Municipal Services Building on Milwaukee Avenue. DiSpirito said the latter is the most important, as the Municipal Services building is “in the most dire condition.” The city would therefore demolish that building and could try to incorporate as much as possible into the Technical Services Building and annex.
“The other goal involved in this is … thus freeing up the opportunity to put the former Baptist Church site, which the city purchased, back into the private sector to generate tax revenue to support basic services for this city,” DiSpirito said. “Particularly, general fund services like police, fire, library and recreation.”
Staff took time to research and talk with numerous experts to figure out all the various possibilities for this collection of sites. Karen Feeney, the city’s finance director, said that the RFP leaves the option open for a developer to buy the former church site – which is in a prime location downtown – and also have a plan of how to turn the current Technical Services Building into a functional municipal annex.
“They could come up and say we’re not interested in (the municipal annex project) and say we’re only interested in buying the Baptist site, and we’re not prohibiting any other response,” Feeney said. “Although the (ideal) response would be, ‘We’re interested in the Baptist site, we’re interested in the municipal services annex and we can help you with parking.’ That would be the ultimate. But we’re not necessarily going to get that. We’ll see what we get. I think if there’s a developer out there who’s pretty sophisticated and can figure out how to make it work for them, then that would (be great.)”
Also in the city’s perfect scenario would be if a developer wanted to turn the church site into a mixed-use development, incorporating residential housing and commercial offices, DiSpirito said. Either way, if the city sells the church site, not only would it be generating tax revenue again, the city also could use the money from the sale to subsidize the cost of the annex project.
The whole commission expressed excitement about the possibilities that this RFP provides.
“I’m excited about what we’re doing, even though it took us a long time to get here,” said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. “But I think we’re being very creative. The P-3 idea is very hot right now. They’re trying to do it all over the country – which is public-private partnerships – and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to obtain what we need while creatively using the public’s money to the least extent, and that’s really important.”
Commissioner Heather Gracy agreed and said she likes the flexibility of this proposal and being able to consolidate the local government center into a modified existing building.