Having put Around Here's imprimatur on a new city hall for Belleair Beach, now comes the time for even more critical and important questions.
What kind of city hall should it be and as a necessary element incorporated in that question, how much should it cost?
Recollection over the past several years says that the price in the preliminary, dream spinning going has ratcheted up. Seems like it began at something like $1.4 million.
Now, it turns out, the prime architect of the project, Harvard, Jolly, Clees is quoting a price that lies somewhere between $2.6 and $2.8 million.
I say the obvious when I say that is a lot of jack for a little ole village like Belleair Beach, home to 1,600 or so souls (if you count slowly and carefully).
Of course, it is a spending town -- at least the officials are. With an outlay of something like $560,000 this next fiscal year for the police department, it is probably paying the highest per capita cost for police in the U.S. of A. And because folks from outside the town insist on it, the council is going to give $20,000 to a private organization.
When it comes to a city hall, Belleair Beach residents would do well to look at Belleair Bluffs, the neighboring little town up the hill across the Intracoastal Waterway from Belleair Beach.
That town built a lovely city hall a couple of years ago that has proved adequate in every way. It is in a lovely, park-like setting, has plenty of office space for the city administration, has office space for the mayor and commissioners and provides an office for the sheriff's deputies who police Belleair Bluffs.
Belleair Bluffs paid about $1 million (including everything) for that city hall. It is some 8,294 square feet. That's a cost of about $120 a square foot.
Current figures on the planned project in Belleair Beach are talking of a cost of upwards of $3 million. The talk is of a 16,000 square foot building -- that's almost twice the size of the Bluffs city hall.
When Bluffs officials and residents were informed of Belleair Beach's plans for a super-dooper city hall, they were bowled over. They could not imagine the use of a city hall twice the size of their own in an even smaller city.
Belleair Beach residents would do themselves well with an educational trip up the hill to see the Bluffs city hall and envision something twice that size and costing three times as much.
Can the Belleair Beach taxpayers, burdened as they are with the most expensive police force on the planet, afford that?
Using the $2.8 million figure and 16,000 square feet, you get square foot cost of $175 -- about $45 above the norm.
The question becomes, what will be the purpose of the Belleair Beach city hall? To talk of it being a center for weddings and bar mitzvahs and whatever else, is to indulge in a pipe dream. Won't happen.
If the purpose is to make the new building into a clubhouse for what used to be called the Property Owners Association and is now called what? the Belleair Beach Civic Association? would be a mistake.
Taxpayers should not have to pay for a city hall cum clubhouse for dances, soirees and drinking and wassailing.
So, on the issue of whether should be a city hall, yes; as to its purpose and cost, that needs to be explained -- in detail.
And when it comes to cost, perhaps a referendum is needed, because no matter how skillfully financed the project seems to be, the bottom line is that the money still comes from the people.
There is a move afoot in Belleair Beach to derail the whole project. Maybe that shouldn't happen.
But the people have to be consulted. That's a must.
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