It’s not been quite 40 years of wandering. But 16 years through five locations, none of them resembling anything like a city hall, was enough of a nomadic experience for the Palm Coast government, which this week was finally making the move into its permanent home on Lake Avenue in Town Center: an actual city hall with its own clock tower, its own lawn and flagpole, its own luxurious board chamber, and room enough for 135 employees, plus a few more in coming years.
Come Friday afternoon employees will shut down at the 20,000 square feet City Marketplace offices, the cramped quarters Palm Coast government contended with since 2008, and Monday morning at 8, without skipping a beat, offices will open at City Hall, which can finally be referred to with capital letters. Meanwhile this week employees have been making the physical move from one place to the other, with furniture still arriving and last-minute fix-ups still ongoing at what amounted to a $9.1 million project and a 41,000-square-foot building.
The first impression one gets even on the approach of the main entrance on Lake Avenue is of broad openness—so broad that the main first-floor corridor opens from end to end, the glass doors at either end creating a vista onto Central Park’s greens and fountain and effectively diminishing the building’s somewhat boxy architecture (it wasn’t designed for style but for function). The entrance is airy and unassuming, the glass-paned offices lining the corridor appearing even more welcoming, the facades’ earthy colors blending with the surroundings rather than imposing on them.
There will be no security guard (as at the county and school board’s Government Services Building) and access is not going to be as fortress-like as it was at City Marketplace, where residents could walk into some of the first-floor areas but not go upstairs without escort. “The public will be able to go upstairs on the elevator and the stairs without being accompanied,” Cindi Lane, the city’s chief spokesperson, said. “But when they get to the top of the stairs they’re not going to be able to go into any individual offices without having a staff member come and let them in.” Downstairs, the bottom floors are largely public. Certain offices are off limits, but “everything else on the first floor it’s going to be very open, very inviting, customer-service oriented.”
There’ll be no mysteries, either. The frequently accessed offices on the first, such as community development, are clearly indicated with aluminum signs. The utility billing rea looks like a small bank, its large teller window counters lined with quartz stone. The public area of the zoning and permitting department is even more inviting, with large, white counters that accommodate most large-size maps and blueprints.
For employees, it’s still the cubicle age, but cubicle walls are low, desks are high—accommodating employees who’d rather stand as they work, for example, or sit on skyscraper chairs to study their arrays of screens, and with numerous conference rooms positioned at key points in every department and named after the old ITT neighborhoods for Palm Coast—Quail Hollow, Indian Trails, Seminole Woods, and so on. The interior design of the work spaces speaks to the administration’s philosophy, which fits into modern-day theory about the workplace: it must be as collaborative as possible.
“The building was really designed for collaboration among employees. We’re really big on teams here in the city,” Lane said, “so you’ll see conference rooms all around, in lots of places, and as we go through you’re going to see areas where there are large tables, that was really designed so employees could easily collaborate. We were always having to cram around to find a place where you could have three people have a meeting.”
Lane was showing the building to a small group of reporters Tuesday afternoon, along with Carl Cote, the city’s construction management and engineering manager, and Brian Rothwell, the city’s purchasing director, both of whom were intimately involved in the city hall project. Cote noted the building’s energy efficiency, its tinted windows, its all-LED lighting (mirroring the city’s gradual conversion of its street lights to LED), and its eye on the future: the east side of the building sports tall windows that could in future double up as access points to a building expansion. For now, it won’t be as if the new building will have a lot of room to spare. Most departments have room for a bit of expansion, but only for a handful of desks. Most of the spaces will be occupied.
It’s been a long journey for Palm Coast government. A decade ago under a previous administration a plan to build a 70,000 square foot city hall collapsed after it went to voters in a referendum that was seeking higher taxes to pay for it. Voters rejected it decisively, and even Mayor Jon Netts, a councilman at the time, opposed it: its ostentation had not gone over well with residents. This city hall’s political groundwork was more carefully planned, with City Manager Jim Landon’s promise to council and voters that no extra taxes would be necessary to pay for it: he called in a “loan” to the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency (the city government within a government that turned Town Center into an enterprise zone, capturing whatever property taxes are generating there for several decades), among other financial arrangements to pay for the building. There as some public opposition to the new building over the years, but it diminished as the plans solidified and had withered by groundbreaking last October.
The city’s departure from City Marketplace, however, is another story: the shopping center has struggled to make its mark on the city’s economic landscape since it opened in 2007. Its new ownership a little over a year ago alienated many tenants, who left. The city’s departure will be a major blow to the mall and its remaining businesses.
For now, though, the city wants the attention on its move, with a grand opening scheduled for Nov. 3 at 4 p.m., with an open house and public tours, and the first city council meeting at the new chamber at 6:30 that evening.
“Obviously we’re a very large city, we have 80,000 residents now, but one of our goals in designing the building was to make sure that this building reflected the small-town atmosphere,” Lane said. “And obviously this is Town Center, so this is our future downtown, and we wanted this building, this city hall, to be a place that could kind of anchor that and reflect that growth.”