Friday, September 3, 2010

Glynn Archer City Hall

Key West City Hall at 525 Angela Street needs to be replaced and the debate about what to do is becoming as loud as the hurricane that put the kibosh on the old city hall in 2005. After Hurricane Wilma flooded much of downtown workers complained of mold and respiratory problems in the elderly building and finally the city rented temporary space on Flagler Avenue while the city churns up some turmoil about what to do next. One candidate is the Glynn Archer Middle School ( the original High School) on White Street.At first glance it looks like a magnificent structure to replace the rather dowdy angular 1960s cement structure crumbling on Angela Street. However if it were that simple the furor over the fate of the next city hall wouldn't be nearly as loud as it is. And everyone has an opinion about what to do next.First off someone needs to figure out what the School Board wants to do with the building that is currently in use. That is a problem not least because Board members are in an election cycle to see who will be voting on any changes after the November election. And owing to the School District's lack of funds it doesn't seem a like a donation of the school to the city will be forthcoming.In the same way that Mayor McPherson had a bee in his bonnet about building a water park on the Truman Waterfront, Mayor Cates, his chosen successor now has a bee in his bonnet about Glynn Archer for City Hall. This despite a report in the paper that the city has already paid a cool $750,000 for architectural plans on how best to rebuild city hall and Fire Station Number Two at the Angela Street location. Oops.Including all the rebuilding plus adding a parking garage the rebuild at Angela Street is estimated to cost 18 million dollars. The mayor wants to give the school district one and a half acres of land next to the District's Administrative headquarters on Trumbo Road and spend another 25 million dollars to refurbish Glynn Archer and build the parking garage and fire station on Angela Street. Those numbers summarized in Sunday's paper will be enough to get city hall watch dogs a heart attack on their own. Never mind all the numbers so far, now the mayor is trying to hire another architect to give him numbers that look better for the Glynn Archer project. There's another storm brewing over that.
Getting mad at Mayor Cates for trying to make his circle a square isn't that out of line in a nation where belief trumps facts every single day, in politics, business and social relations. If Florida were sensible gays would be allowed to adopt and teach classes because we all know that children don't grow up gay because of who their parents are (where would gays come from in the first place if that were the case? Not their genes, of course!). Yet Florida, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary forbids both activities to gays on the grounds that children need to be "protected." Which I mention only as a way of saying that yielding to the numbers is not the political way in Key West, Florida, or the USA as a whole, so let's not crucify Mayor Cates for trying to squeeze the numbers into his vision.
The Citizen thinks that locating city hall at Glynn Archer would cause traffic congestion. Which is a decidedly odd argument to make if you ask me (and no one has). The paper thinks it's time to conduct a traffic pattern study but give me the dollars and I can summarize it here. Everyone should visit city hall on two wheels, motorized or not. Look, there's tons of parking!All joking aside, Glynn Archer has tons of parking available on the school grounds that stretch alongside United Street which is a major artery out of the south end of Duval Street.
White Street is the major cross town artery giving easy access to Glynn Archer from Porter Place to the White Street pier. New Town residents approach from Truman, Catherine, White, Flagler and even Atlantic Avenue. Easy Peasy. Naturally there will be neighborhood impacts but a decent sized parking lot will keep street parking to a minimum. If traffic were the only problem, Glynn Archer would a be a shoe-in.Dealing with the neurotics on the school board will be ghastly. They lost the chance to sell Harris School for ten million during the property boom thanks to a lot of stupid dithering and ended up selling it for half that years later. They will have no idea how to cope if the City approaches them to do a deal. That alone will sink this idea faster than the Titanic. And deeper. This is after all a functioning school and a barely functioning Board.
Personally I think the two best things about Glynn Archer are the location, which centralizes city hall and puts it close to the national Weather Service (handy in a hurricane, just across the street) and a few blocks from the Police Station and central Fire Station (ditto in a hurricane or other emergency). Also it cannot be denied it looks the part.
Even as a ratty old school it has heft and presence on the street.
No amount of cheap signage can disfigure it.
However as the paper puts it, spending less to rebuild city hall at Angela Street is a powerful argument in an economic Depression. Naturally the owner of the hotel across the street on Angela will start creating again, as she did the last time that idea was proposed. She says her business will go bankrupt if she has to rent rooms with construction work going on across the street.
I'm with Mayor Cates, this place would be really cool if renovated properly and built to last a hundred years.
There's United Street, wide and straight pointing straight at Duval and the parking lot stretches out of sight behind the ugly chain link fence.
I think the tiger should stay too.
But it will never happen. That's my bet. It just looks too good.