The Pinellas County is doing work at the Seminole Water Tower and surrounding property as it prepares for demolition.
SEMINOLE – After months of back and forth between Pinellas County and the city of Seminole, the demolition of the Seminole Water Tower seems inevitable.
“It’s over rover,” said Mayor Leslie Waters, referring to an attempt by the city and a newly formed non-profit organization, Friends of the Seminole Water Tower, to save it from demolition.
The water tower, which was decommissioned in 2012, is owned by the county and sits on county property at the northwest corner of 74th Avenue and 113th Street.
Towards the end of 2016, citizens and city leaders stepped up when it came to light that the county had plans to demolish the water tower and sell the scrap metal.
But many residents and visitors consider the water tower to be a landmark for the city, said Jeff Etter, president of the Friends group.
In a March interview with the Beacon, he said, “You ask me why I want to save the tower? Because my neighbor said, ‘This is important to me.’ This is a community thing and the water tower is a landmark for Seminole.”
As of press time, nearly 950 individuals have signed a change.org petition calling for the water tower to be saved. The Friends group has also sold hundreds of “Save the Water Tower” yard signs to residents and Etter estimates that hundreds of postcards supporting saving the tower have been sent to county commissioners.
In recent months, the city has been attempting to negotiate to lease the water tower and the park below it from the county, even considering purchasing the property at one point.
But at its June 27 meeting, the council voted unanimously to reject a lease proposal from the county. The proposed lease called for the city to pay approximately $52,700 per year with a three percent annual increase for 99 years. In this deal, the city would also be responsible for deferred maintenance of the property, estimated to be around $135,000.
Additionally, the city would not be able to apply for or obtain a historic or other special designations for the property. This would make it difficult for the city or the Friends group to obtain sponsorships and grants that could help defray costs of the tower’s ongoing maintenance, Etter said.
At the same meeting, the city council also unanimously voted to attempt further negotiations with the county. The council planned to send City Manager Ann Toney-Deal and City Attorney Jay Daigneault to an upcoming commission meeting to present a counter proposal.
Originally, the council proposed a lease of $1 per year, which the county turned down.
In an interview with the Beacon, Janet Long, chair of the Pinellas County Commission and a Seminole resident, said she wanted to remind the city that the county commission “is not a charity.”
The proposed $1 a year lease was “unreasonable,” she said, and won’t be considered by the commission. She said the lease proposal submitted to the city was “a standard county lease.”
Still, Etter points to other leases the county has executed in the past for $1 a year, most notably, he said, for the Brooker Creek Preserve with the Friends of Brooker Creek organization.
On June 28, the county executed an agreement with Cross Construction Services Inc. to demolish the water tower for $149,000.
Toney-Deal provided the Beacon with an email sent June 28 from Mark Woodard, county administrator, to the county commission. He updated commissioners on the actions of the Seminole City Council at its meeting the day before, writing that the council “expressed a desire to publicly negotiate the lease with the County Commission.”
He went on to write that after a conversation with Long, the water tower would “not be considered further” and wouldn’t be placed on a future commission agenda.
He wrote, “Accordingly, the demolition bid received by the County on May 23, 2017 has been awarded. The contractor will start mobilization soon and the entire demolition project, including the removal of underground piping, is slated for completion by the end of November.”
The county stands to make money from sale of the scrap metal, Long said. In an April interview, she also indicated that the property the water tower stands on will be sold.
“It is my understanding that there is a buyer for the property, though it’s not a matter of public record yet,” she said at the time.
On July 5, the county issued a press release announcing that the park surrounding the water tower is closed as removal work begins.
The release announced that site preparation work was beginning and that fencing will be erected around the site in coming weeks. A pipe contractor hired by the county is currently locating and capping supply lines before Cross Construction Services can begin demolition.
According to the press release, “Previously, the County offered the City of Seminole several opportunities to purchase or lease the property. Those options were declined, and no agreement could be reached.”
Waters said the city was not notified that any work would begin at the water tower.
“They didn’t give us any notice. And the county commission has not had a chance to review our counter offer,” she said.
In an email to the Beacon, she added, “It is regrettable that Pinellas County government refused to negotiate a land-lease agreement with the City in regards to the Seminole Water Tower. The Commission Chairman and staff put the brakes on a possible ‘good faith’ discussion. Also, the County Commission didn’t even get a chance to vote on this issue.”