City expands redevelopment contract
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times,
CLEARWATER -- The city's million-dollar tab will keep running with high-profile redevelopment attorney Charlie Siemon, the City Commission decided Thursday.
Commissioners approved adding another $125,000 contract to the previous bills from Siemon's Boca Raton firm, which will allow Siemon to continue advising the city on downtown and beach redevelopment projects for the next 15 months.
The city has spent $992,605 for Siemon's services since 1997, records state.
Among his jobs, Siemon was dubbed the city's master redevelopment designer under former City Manager Mike Roberto. He was responsible for rewriting the city's code to be more flexible with redevelopment projects and attracting developers to the beach and downtown, then crafting master plans for redevelopment around their projects.
Siemon, who was not at Thursday's meeting, also worked on last year's voter-rejected downtown redevelopment plan and helped the city negotiate the 250-room Marriott resort deal in Clearwater Beach that is stymied by a neighboring hotelier's litigation.
Commissioners Bill Jonson and Ed Hart both questioned the expense. Hart said he wanted to see the city wean itself from Siemon's advice.
Jonson said that he has seen Siemon very effectively defend the city's codes in a courtroom, but he understands that the public remembers him as a visible player in the redevelopment process under Roberto. Siemon pitched ideas such as the Clearwater Beach roundabout.
Jonson questioned whether the city has received a "measurable product for the value" of the dollars spent on Siemon.
Jonson suggested that the city only authorize $75,000 in expenses, but his motion failed to gain approval of other commissioners.
Planning Director Ralph Stone reassured commissioners that Siemon will be used more like a scalpel than a sledgehammer. Stone said that Siemon is no longer out ahead of the city, being paid to put deals together. Instead, Stone said, Siemon's expertise will be used more sparingly for specific tasks.
City Attorney Pam Akin told commissioners that she felt Siemon's $200 hourly rate is very reasonable, given that his law firm does a national practice orchestrating redevelopment projects, representing developers and governments.
"It's actually below market for his area of expertise. He's actually very kind to us in his bills," she said.
Mayor Brian Aungst said that he feels Siemon has a lot of "sweat equity" invested in the city and that he seems to want to continue working until a successful beach resort or downtown redevelopment project takes off.
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