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New Dunedin City Hall considered a priority
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Screenshot by TOM GERMOND
Dunedin Interim City Manager Doug Hutchens discusses including a new government center on the list of recommended projects to be funded by the extension of the Penny for Pinellas.
DUNEDIN – Some city of Dunedin officials don’t mince words in calling for construction of a consolidated city hall.

Particularly Commissioner Moe Freaney, who complained April 10 about Municipal Services Center, 750 Milwaukee Ave., which she said has been renovated many times.

“It is time to have a consolidated building. And you can quote me on that. That municipal services building is a piece of crap,” she said.

City officials recommended that a new government center be funded from the $40 million that they expect to receive from the 10-year extension of the Penny for Pinellas, if voters in the Nov. 7 election approve it.

Commissioners discussed their priorities for funding at the four-hour workshop April 10.

Freaney also took issue with City Hall, saying there is a lack of space in the auditorium. She said that was the case at a recent commission meeting involving the city’s pilot paid parking program.

“We had tons of people outside, waiting to speak and most of them left because it was cold outside,” Freaney said.

Other commissioners talked about taking the wrecking ball to the Municipal Services Center, including Heather Gracy.

“I’m with Commissioner Freany. It’s putting good dollars into bad facilities,” Gracy said. “I’m not interested in doing that any longer.”

Commissioner Deborah Kynes agreed that commissioners should be looking at the long term.

“Let’s think about a landmark project that will serve our community for so many years to come,” she said, “and that will be signature.”

The discussion stemmed from Interim City Manager Doug Hutchens talking at length about the recommendation that a government center being a top priority. The estimated cost for the center is $8.95 million. He also said city officials should be serious about addressing the need for an emergency operations center.

Over the years the commission has prioritized facility replacement focusing on residents, such as the community center, the Hale Center for the seniors, the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, a fire station, public services and public safety, he said.

“But I tell you that I really think it’s important that now that we have taken care of the public in so many areas, it’s time to take care of both the staff and the public who share these facilities – the city clerk and finance, and permitting and all the other places where we touch our community on a daily basis and this is an opportunity to do that,” Hutchens said.

Gateway property could be City Hall site

Back on the drawing board again is the site at Main Street, Milwaukee Avenue and Skinner Avenue, known as the Gateway property, to be used for the government center.

The Gateway property was originally purchased by the city in the fall of 2003 for $2.1 million for a consolidated municipal center. The City Commission subsequently determined that the best use of the land to be for an urban development project that complemented the downtown. Proposed developments have fizzled since then.

By building the government center on the Gateway site, the city would save money in moving and renovating another building. As an anchor, the government center could be a diverse development and lead to development of a grocery store, which commissioners have expressed hopes in attracting to Gateway parcels, Hutchens said.

A restaurant also could be included in development plans. Discussion will continue on government center after city officials receive information from consultants’ economic analysis of the Gateway site.

“It’s certainly fluid and there’s a lot of moving parts to it as an opportunity for the city to address its long-term needs for a new government building,” Hutchens said.

Commissioner John Tornga asked commissioners to consider what city functions have to be together before they agree to spend money on a huge building that will cost about $9 million or more if land costs are involved.

“The question becomes where does that need to be (a government center) and why?” Tornga said. “Some people say it needs to be in your main downtown and I would just want to question that always as we go forward, not to rain on anybody’s parade, but just to make sure we always consider that.”

In previous discussions, whether the Toronto Blue Jays planned to continue spring training operations in Dunedin have been factors in planning for city offices. If the Blue Jays relocated, then the stadium office might be available for municipal services, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said.

However, she said she agreed with Commissioner Freaney that she is tired of waiting for a government center.

When is the wrecking ball coming?” Ward Bujalski said.

Hutchens said discussions will continue on the government center through the community visioning process and workshops.

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners has requested that each municipality submit a list of signature projects that would be funded if the Penny for Pinellas were renewed to include and highlight in educational materials.

Commissioners informally agreed that those should include the government center/city hall, $8.95 million; new aquatics center, $7 million; pavement preservation projects, $5.6 million; emergency operations center, $1.94 million, and Skinner corridor improvements, $1 million.

“It’s not necessarily what we are putting on our own list,” Ward Bujalski said.

Despite those recommendations, more discussion is expected before final decisions are made on the use of the tax. Several other city projects may be funded, such as a parking garage, replacement of a softball complex and the replacement of other city buildings.

Tom Germond is editor of the Dunedin Beacon. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 330, or by email at tgermond@TBNweekly.com.

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