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    Response to library is far from hushed

    The proposed design of Clearwater's new main library has elicited emphatic opinions - both for and against.

    [Courtesy of Robert A.M. Stern Architects]
    A wavy roof marks the proposed design of the new main library, shown in this rendering from Osceola Avenue.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 3, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- The proposed design of Clearwater's future main library has split public opinion along the lines of personal taste.

    Some people say the proposed design with its distinctive wavy roof line is beautiful, innovative and striking -- a future landmark at the top of the city's downtown waterfront bluff.

    Others have described it as sterile, ugly, disappointing, undistinguished, ill-conceived, outrageously tasteless and a desecration of a magnificent location.

    And some critics used metaphors, comparing the proposed architecture of the 90,000-square-foot building to a stable at the Kentucky Derby, a factory, a barn, a prison or an airport terminal.

    "Architecture is an aesthetic thing," said Interim City Manager Bill Horne, who said the contemporary design has grown on him. "Not everyone will like it."

    Horne said that the comments so far have probably come from the city's most vocal residents, while he believes "the vast majority of our registered voters will be happy with whatever we do."

    The city, however, sought the public comments by holding four public meetings in May on the proposed design of the $20.2-million building. Clearwater also solicited and received 61 written opinions about the library.

    According to a review by the St. Petersburg Times, 35 of those comments expressed negative opinions about the design. Eighteen had positive reviews. Eight comments focused on suggestions to improve the proposed design.

    Like it or hate it, the opinions were usually emphatic.

    "WOW! I really love the design!" wrote resident Mary Moore Boulay. "While acknowledging the past, the design celebrates the present and future."

    Resident Joyce Earl commented that the "renderings are very beautiful. I especially like the airy spacious architecture."

    Negative comments ranged from a simple "Start over!" to more elaborate outpourings of disdain.

    "If citizens are expected to raise the deficit in funds to build the new library," wrote Molly Kuklovic, "The architects need to read the extensive results of patron public input meetings. This design is abominable!"

    "Please. PLEASE!! Don't let this barn, posing as a library building, be built in Clearwater!!!" wrote Jerald Ozbun. "We have the stupid roundabout, with no fountain, and the ugly Harborview Center. How much more do the citizens of Clearwater have to put up with?!!"

    Some people said that the design should be more traditional, perhaps emulating the historic downtown post office's Mediterranean revival style.

    "This design might go over big in Miami but is not our style," said Dwight Matheny, treasurer of the Clearwater Downtown Development Board. "Leaping out with a futuristic design is harmful to the rest of the work being done to restore our downtown."

    Library director John Szabo said that he thought public opinion was closely split.

    He added that the public made some good suggestions to improve the building, including moving the library's elevator closer to the building's main entranceway and making sure that the book drop is in a convenient location.

    Szabo is compiling all of the public comments for the City Commission, who will be asked to give their input on the library design June 18, Horne said.

    Last week, a majority of the commission seemed upbeat about the design.

    "I like it," Commissioner Whitney Gray said. "I saw a lot of the traditional elements combined with some of the more creative elements in it."

    But Gray said she has heard mixed reviews from residents who have talked to her about it.

    "To a large degree this is a matter of taste," she said. "Nothing that we draw will appeal to everybody. At some point, we're going to have to make a decision and go for it. The key thing is to get this thing off the ground."

    Commissioner Ed Hart said he trusts Robert A.M. Stern, the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, to design an appropriate and noteworthy building for the city.

    "I've had two or three architects call me and tell me that they love it," Hart said. "It is not only creative, but it offers something that will really set Clearwater apart. I think the Stern building will be something creative and new, and put Clearwater on the map."

    Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton had a similar opinion.

    "I can't say that I'm ready to put my arms around exactly what we've seen and say let's go with it," Hamilton said. "But I think it needs to make a statement, and not be just another Mediterranean type of facade."

    Mayor Brian Aungst could not be reached to comment, while Commissioner Bill Jonson said he didn't dislike the design.

    "To me, it's kind of like you have an architect design your house for you," Jonson said. "He comes in and shows you the drawings, and you say "I'm not sure I'm real comfortable with this. Could you give me some options I can consider?' We may come back with questions."

    Former Mayor Rita Garvey, whose family is making a $108,000 donation to help build the library, said she feels the design takes advantage of the library's site on the city's waterfront bluff downtown, the site of the existing main library, which will be demolished.

    She thinks the design is creative, especially considering that the architect was limited to building on a rectangular strip of land at the top of the city's bluff under restrictions in the city charter.

    "The more I've looked at it, and the flow inside it and the flow outside, the more I like it," Garvey said. "If you look at it from the flow of wind, from the flow of water, it seems to blend in and make sense with the landscape of Clearwater."

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