Slowly but surely, residents of Marathon and government officials are inching towards a complete plan for a new city hall. So far, only the basics have been agreed upon: to build a city hall, to build it where the current city hall trailers are now, to install more than the required amount of landscaping on the highway side of the lot, and a rough figure of what it will cost.
Whether city hall will be raised or ground-level, whether it will feature balconies, or whether it will also include a community center-slash- convention center will not be decided until the price of such items is known.
“It’s about dollars and cents,” said councilmember Dick Ramsay. “We can borrow up to $6 million, but we also have to plan other infrastructure projects and be considerate of our emergency reserves in the case of a hurricane.”
Both Ramsay and Councilmember Mike Cinque want what they call modular pricing; in other words, for the engineer or architects to break down the costs for the wish list.
“Cost is foremost in our mind at the City Council,” said Cinque. “But we want a nice city hall. It’s time.”
The City of Marathon has put out a request for proposal (RFP), to interested architectural and engineering teams. They will submit their qualifications by Friday, March 15 to be considered to design the future city hall.
“City staff will rank the submitting teams and present it to the city council sometime in April,” said City Manager Roger Hernstadt.
Perhaps the hardest decisions to make are whether to raise the building off the ground and whether or not to build a hall for meetings. A ground-level city hall is cheaper to construct, but harder to protect during a hurricane flood. And various city businessmen and government officials are having a friendly discussion whether a meeting hall is needed.
The Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce said it isn’t.
“The position of our board is that we definitely want a city hall, but we’re concerned that a large-scale convention center competes with private business,” said Daniel Samess, the chamber’s executive director. He mentioned that smaller venues such as the Marathon Yacht Club and the Sombrero Beach County Club depend on the profits of hosting small to large groups. The same is true for Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key on a much grander scale. He also questioned whether city staff is prepared to market the venue or whether adequate kitchen facilities will be included in the construction to make it attractive for sit-down gala affairs.
Councilmember Cinque sees the value in the community center.
“We can use it for city meetings, other meetings, talent shows. We can set it up as a meeting room or conference room that businesses would want to put groups in,” he said. Another use, he said, would be to “harden” the room and use it as an emergency center during storms.
Currently, Marathon council meetings take place in the county-owned building at the southeast end of town. The cost of renting that space is $18,000 a year.
“The bottom line is that we need more citizens to participate and we need closer cost estimates,” Ramsay said.
Cinque said he can’t say what the city hall will cost.
“I don’t think we’ll spend $5 million. It’s not going to be $ 6 million, I guarantee that,” Cinque said.
Councilwoman Ginger Snead said the making the big and small decisions regarding city hall needs to continue.
“The longer we say, ‘We’re not ready yet,’ the bigger chance that we miss the opportunity,” she said. “If we had said, ‘Let’s wait on the sewer,’ then we wouldn’t have gotten the money. The city hall trailers were supposed to be a one- or two-year stop gap. We need to start making decision and live with the ones that we make.”