DUNEDIN — Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski recalled being 5 years old when she wore an Easter bonnet during a visit to the old Dunedin library that is now City Hall on Main Street.
“For 50 years, I've been coming into this darn building,” she said, getting laughter at the City Commission meeting Sept. 13.
Despite expressing some sentimental value for the building, she and commissioners are moving toward razing the building and using the property it sits on at 542 Main St. for a park. They asked staff to nail down some costs and a time frame for demolishing City Hall and creating a park with suggestions for its amenities.
The discussion on the structure stems from a 39,000-square-foot City Hall being built on Louden Avenue.
The current City Hall was renovated in 1978. The City Commission chambers were remodeled in 1996 and commission office space added in 2004.
According to reports from engineers and other specialists hired by the city, the total estimated costs to replace mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in the building would be $623,100. It would cost an additional $600,000 for remodeling work.
Those costs are said to be close to the cost to replace the entire building.
Commissioner Jeff Gow suggested that the area have open space with some playground equipment and public restrooms. He said that a park will give families a place for respite so they can spend more time downtown.
"It's not just about bars and restaurants and retail ..." Gow said.
Bujalski said that when city officials held public meetings on what people wanted at the new city hall, they put emphasis on green space and gathering spots. But city officials only had so much green space available at the site.
"And what we said was don't worry about it there, you are going to have green space a block away," Bujalski said. "And so we curved that concern of theirs over there by saying we are going to have it here."
She believes city officials have to stick to what they've told people unless there are compelling reasons not to.
Bujalski added that another problem is either a nonprofit will want to use the building and won't be able to afford what they need to do to, requiring the city participate, or it will be occupied by a high-end restaurant or entertainment venue. In that case, she said, there will be parking issues.
"They are going to want us to allow them to get free parking, and not have to pay $8,000 a spot," she said, "which is what they are going to need."
Bujalski was also told by a couple of people involved in a move to establish a theater that they don't want to use the property for such a venue.
"If it didn't have a lot of problems, it's a cool space. But it's the wrong space, wrong time," Commissioner Moe Freaney said.
Commissioner John Tornga supported the use of the property as a park but recommended that city officials give the public enough time to think about the proposal.
Bujalski also said having open space on the property would take some of the onus off Pioneer Park, located on Main Street to the west, where a fresh market is held two days on the weekend. She would like to see a plan with cost estimates and input from the public.
Demolition costs are estimated at $40,000. An asbestos survey may raise the price.
Bujalski said it could take six to eight months to devise a plan for a park, including earmarking funds for it. City officials plan to educate the public on the plan before it comes back to the commission for a formal decision.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said the process would be in two phases, the first being the demolition component and the second the plan for the property. Saving trees on the site was considered a high priority.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes initially said city officials should see if there is any interest in saving the building, but if not then go to a plan B.
Later in the meeting she said if commissioners vote in ensuing weeks to establish a park on the property, it would be an important place for major art in public places.
Whatever decision commissioners make, she felt that some of the remnants from the building should be retained, such as bricks underneath the flooring.
"Because it has been a landmark to a lot of people in the city of Dunedin for a lot of years," Kynes said.
"I get that. And I totally agree that we keep a piece of it," said Freaney, who was "a kid out of college" when she started working as a city employee in the building.
Timing is a critical factor in the process.
"We certainly can pursue demolition, but we got to make sure we have a new home before we knock it down," said Deputy City Manager Jorge Quintas, with a chuckle.