By Thomas R. Collins
The City Hall and police station in Boynton Beach might be about to move farther away from the coast, leaving the traditional downtown area.
Three developers’ proposals call for moving city operations west of I-95 near Congress Avenue. Only one would keep it in the downtown area near Ocean Avenue and Federal Highway.
Where to put the City Hall and police station — and it’s possible that only a new police station will be built — is raising questions about how important a city hall is to a downtown and where the future heart of the city will be. A meeting on the topic is scheduled for Nov. 3.
Whether a new complex is built at all is up in the air. City commissioners have agreed, at least initially, to put it on the March ballot, letting voters decide whether to issue bonds for the project, which could range in price from $30 million to more than $50 million. But they haven’t yet taken a final vote on that.
The plan now is for commissioners to choose one of the options proposed by developers and then put it on the table for voters, City Manager Kurt Bressner said.
The only eastern proposal, from Plantation-based Patrinely Group, includes two options: a 117,000-square-foot combination City Hall and police station at the northeast corner of Federal Highway and Ocean Avenue or just City Hall there and a new police station on NE Ninth Avenue, the city’s current public works site.
It also includes provisions for refurbishing the old high school building and redeveloping the existing City Hall site.
But it doesn’t include a cost estimate, which was requested in the city’s RFP. Another option is for a complex at Congress Avenue and Old Boynton Road, put forward by Atlanta-based Sembler Company, for either $32.4 million or $50.5 million, depending on whether both the police station and City Hall are built or just the police station.
Another calls for a complex at Gateway Boulevard and High Ridge Road for either $38.3 million or $23.6 million.
Both of those options include a lease option.
And another proposal, from developer James Comparato, calls for the police station to go into 67,000 square feet of raw space that already exists in Renaissance Commons at Gateway Boulevard and Congress Avenue. The cost would be $12 million but doesn’t include the likely millions the city would have to spend to outfit the space.
Whether the eastern proposal will stay in the running remains to be seen. City staff has labeled it “non-responsive.”
“That’s going to be a decision of the City Commission,” Bressner said.
Mayor Jerry Taylor said he would “have a problem” considering that proposal.
“How would I base my decision?” he said.
He said that moving the City Hall from the downtown doesn’t mean it is no longer the heart of the city. He said he’d be inclined to have the City Hall and police station “wherever you get the best deal.”
Commissioner Jose Rodriguez, who represents the district where the current City Hall sits, said taking away City Hall would kill businesses in the downtown. “It would be ludicrous to think we would move X number of employees west to Congress and expect them to survive,” he said.
Plus, he said, keeping City Hall in the east is called for in the downtown master plan.
He downplayed the importance of having a cost in the proposals, since there were few specifications in the city’s RFP, making it hard to get at a realistic price. “I had developers call me and say, ‘We can’t bid on this because we have no specs,’” he said.
Commissioner Marlene Ross, whose district would get City Hall were it to move west, said she hasn’t decided and “I’m eager to see them all.”
Residents have different points of view, she said. “Some of them feel strongly that City Hall could be anywhere in the city and some of them are committed to the original downtown,” she said.
One who is committed to the original downtown is Barbara Ready, who leads a group trying to preserve the old Boynton high school.
City Hall, she said, would anchor the downtown, acting as a visible marker that the traditional downtown is the city’s main gathering place. “There’s something to be said for having a beautiful, dignified City Hall that you can point to with pride in the downtown.”