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Clearwater OKs contract for City Hall amid land swap

Veronica Brezina

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PSTA's Park Street terminal. GoogleMaps.

The city has inked a contract with a St. Petersburg architectural firm to design the new City Hall – marking it as one of the first financial commitments in turning a 25-year vision into reality. 

During a Thursday Clearwater council meeting, in a four-to-one vote, with Mayor Frank Hibbard casting the sole “no” vote, the members approved a roughly $2.95 million work order and professional service agreement with St. Petersburg-based Wannemacher Jensen Architects Inc. to design the new City Hall. 

The new City Hall, built at the northwest corner of S. Myrtle Avenue and Franklin Street, would anchor a connected municipal campus that includes the current Municipal Services Center building, Clearwater Police headquarters and Municipal Services Garage. 

Hibbard holds a firm stance against the project overall. “I don’t think we ought to be building a new City Hall,” he said, stating the estimate for the new City Hall project is $34 million. 

The original City Hall at 112 S. Osceola Ave., which was built in 1966, sits on prime real estate on what’s known as the Bluff properties in downtown Clearwater; however, the vacant building has been deemed unfunctional and is scheduled to be redeveloped. 

“I believe we could put a joint City Hall and library in this facility [the main city library]. We already have meetings here. I think it could be done between $2 million-$4 million and save upwards of $30 million,” Hibbard argued, explaining the savings could be allocated toward other projects. 

“I know I don’t have support for this, but I think it’s a mistake,” Hibbard cautioned. 

“We’ve been talking about building a new City Hall for 25 years,” councilmember David Allbritton said following Hibbard’s comments. 

The city tapped Wannemacher Jensen after receiving proposals through a request for qualifications (RFQ) process. 

Under the design contract, the city would also like the firm to analyze the space needs of the adjacent municipal services building and the needs of those departments expected to move into the new City Hall, to reimagine space allocation within the adjacent buildings with a focus on balancing internal and external efficiencies, such as a development services center.

The contract comes as Clearwater is in the midst of negotiating a land swap deal with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Through the deal, the city would obtain PSTA’s old Park Street bus terminal site. 

The land swap deal 

On Wednesday morning, PSTA’s finance committee will review a recommendation for PSTA CEO Brad Miller to execute a land swap agreement with the City of Clearwater to construct the Clearwater Transit Center project. 

Update: The committee has recommended approval.

Per the drafted land swap agreement, the city would provide three parcels located in downtown Clearwater located on Court Street and Myrtle Street to PSTA for construction of the Clearwater Transit Center. 

An aerial showing the two sites. Image: PSTA documents.

PSTA would also negotiate a lease agreement with the city to continue operating the bus services from the Park Street facility until the project is completed.

The planned 16-bay facility would link riders to Pinellas County beaches and other destinations. The transit hub would also be outfitted with solar panels and electric bus-charging stations – meeting PSTA’s plans to have a fully electric fleet by 2050. The green energy-powered facility would also have enhanced connections to bicycle, pedestrian, ride-hailing taxis such as Uber and Lyft, and autonomous vehicles.  

An aerial rendering of the new Clearwater facility for the electric fleet. Image provided.

The excess value of the city’s properties compared to PSTA’s property will be the city’s contribution to the Clearwater Transit Center project.

The entire project cost for the new center is $44.5 million. 

PSTA was recently awarded $20 million in federal grants for the construction of the new Clearwater Transit Center as part of the Rebuilding America Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program. PSTA would also utilize other state and local funding. 

Although PSTA was initially facing a funding gap, a PSTA spokesperson said the authority is hopeful it will secure $10 million through Pinellas County. 

If the finance committee approves the recommendation to move forward on the land swap deal, the next step would be for the item to go before PSTA’s board Sept. 28 and proceed to go before the City of Clearwater Oct. 6, according to a presentation slide in PSTA’s documents. 

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1 Comment

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    Ron Ogden

    September 22, 2022at8:42 am

    The urge to spend millions and millions of dollars on new municipal “Taj Mahals” seems to run strong in the north half of Pinellas these days. First in Dunedin and now in Clearwater. A better idea would be to consolidate city functions elsewhere and give the unused money back to the people.

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