St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

City Hall plans New Tampa office

Officials say a City Hall branch is needed in New Tampa to accommodate the area's recent growth spurt.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


NEW TAMPA -- A flood of increased growth and development in New Tampa has city officials planning a "mini" city hall near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

While the concept is still under consideration, the building could be ready as soon as January of 2002 and would be paid for almost exclusively by a 15 percent increase in building permit fees, said Steve LaBrake, director of Tampa's department of business and community services. Originally, officials proposed the site as a permitting center to cut down on commuting costs for building inspectors. About 60 to 65 percent of the city's new permits are issued in New Tampa, LaBrake said.

But recently the plan has evolved to include putting a cashier in the office to collect utility bills, an information service center and a conference room.

"Even if we just put a cashier in that office, we could end up taking water bills, parking tickets, the kind of things people could come in to pay or discuss," LaBrake said. "It became more than a permitting center. It became a municipal hall for a variety of services."

The city needs a 15,000- to 16,000-square-foot facility on a few acres. LaBrake said his office plans to submit a request for a proposal seeking builders in the next 60 days and property owners willing to sell or rent space near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. He hopes to receive bids by late October.

Once the office opens, 41 of the city's 65 building inspectors would work there. LaBrake said the city envisions 35,000 new homes -- a combination of multifamily and single-family homes -- and 12,000 square feet of commercial buildings in New Tampa during the next five years. He said the cost of commuting made officials consider the project.

"What happens is we lose roughly 10,000 man hours in the commute time," LaBrake said. "Sixty percent are going back up to North Tampa where they came from. It would be much better if we had a site up there.

The project is expected to cost about $3-million, most of which would be covered by the city's first increase in building permit fees in the past 20 years. Fees vary on some properties by square footage, while others are based on a flat fee.

The City Council would have to approve the fee increase. LaBrake said it could go before them as soon as October.

Councilman Shawn Harrison, who represents New Tampa and lives in Tampa Palms, spoke favorably about the project.

"Since most of the growth is occurring in the New Tampa area, it's really problematic for construction people to keep shuttling back and forth between New Tampa and the city,"Harrison said. "(But) it will be more. It will be like a mini city hall out there."

-- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.