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Site proposed for library and City Hall

Title: Site proposed for library and City Hall
Date: Wednesday, 24 December 1997
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Anita Kumar
Main source:

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CLEARWATER—City officials are considering building a new City Hall and a main library across from each other at the intersection of Cleveland Street and Myrtle Avenue.

The proposal calls for the two buildings to face Cleveland Street, separated by a well-landscaped, decorative traffic circle.

A drawing created by a consultant shows City Hall at the southwest corner, in place of an old hotel owned by the Church of Scientology. It puts the library at the northeast corner on the former Chick Smith Ford property.

City Manager Mike Roberto's redevelopment plan for downtown calls for the creation of a "city center" or government hub at that intersection, which already includes police headquarters, a municipal office complex and the Pinellas Trail.

Roberto said he will present his downtown proposal to the City Commission and public in January and hopes to have a site for the library by spring.

He told members of a library selection committee Tuesday that the city is considering other sites for City Hall and the library, but he wants to keep the buildings in that area. He would not say what property is being considered.

Roberto persuaded committee members, who favored another site at Cleveland Street and Missouri Avenue, to abandon their original decision. He told them his location would provide an anchor for downtown and would help encourage walking and not just driving.

"In our eyes, it's an extremely logical location," he said.

City officials say the existing City Hall, more than three decades old, will need to be extensively renovated or torn down and replaced within the next three to five years. Commissioners have not decided whether to build a new city hall or how they would pay for a new building or renovations. Scientology spokesman Brian Anderson said church officials have previously talked to the city about the former Travelodge building, but no decision has been made about selling or trading the property.

The church bought the building, now called the Mariner, last summer for $475,000. Church officials said they plan to renovate the building at 711 Cleveland St. and use it to house visiting members. Soon after Roberto started work in June, he said church officials asked him whether the city would be willing to swap land with the church. Scientology officials have expressed interest in acquiring a city alley on Court Street near the American Red Cross and a small parking lot at the corner of Franklin Street and East Avenue.

Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, a private, non-profit corporation formed to promote economic development in the city, is leading an effort to bring a Publix supermarket to the Chick Smith property. Roberto said he will meet with housing services officials in the next few weeks.

Isay Gulley, executive director of housing services, said Tuesday that she was surprised the city was considering the property because efforts are still under way to land the grocery store.

"It's surprising—very surprising," Gulley said. "There was no indication the supermarket wasn't wanted there. You can't say you support the spot for a supermarket and then say you want to use it for something else."

Gulley said she is concerned mixed support from the city will "kill the deal" with Publix. She said she expects to hear from Publix next month. Winn-Dixie had previously expressed an interest in the property, but decided against putting a store there.

If the city builds the library on the Chick Smith property, it would have to be several stories high, because there's not enough land to spread the building out. Because it used to be a car dealership and fuel may have leaked into the ground, the property would probably have to be cleaned.

A parking garage would also have to be built directly behind the building along Laura Street and possibly connect to the library through an elevated walkway.

Library officials are eager to construct a 112,000-square-foot replacement for the 80-year-old library, which has structural problems that make certain areas dangerous and unable to hold bookshelves.

The city will pay for the library with Penny for Pinellas sales tax money it will begin collecting in 2000. Commissioners have said they may consider borrowing money for the project before 2000 and then paying it back later.

(c) St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 1997