Port St. Joe votes to move forward with grant application for new city hall

Port St. Joe City Commissioners unanimously voted to allow City Manager Jim Anderson and the city’s grant writing team to move forward with applying for a USDA grant that would help fund the construction of the city’s new government building complex.

The project has been in the works since 2019, months after Hurricane Michael severely damaged the existing city hall and fire and police stations.

The city acquired the property to build the complex from the St. Joe Company  for a little over $320,000 in March of 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, but from there, progress has been slow.

‘I think we need to move forward,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett at the City’s April 19 meeting. “We need to separate the projects, no doubt, the city hall complex and the fire and police, but I think we need to move forward on the complex and see what the next roadblock will be.”

The lot is a little more than five acres, nestled between Avenue A and David Langston Drive, very near the city’s existing downtown.

“It’s a centralized location,” Buzzett said when advocating for the location in late 2019. “That way we don’t have to move city hall outside of town.”

Initially, the city had hoped to build the entire complex simultaneously – with room for a city hall, building department and fire and police stations included. The project in its entirety is expected to cost $11 million.

But after struggling to secure grant funding for the fire and police stations, the board voted to move forward with only the city hall building at this time.

The city hall project is estimated to cost $3.5 million, though Anderson said with supply chain shortages and lacking work crews, costs could exceed this.

“Looking at the costs of construction today, they estimate in the PAR, which is the architectural rendering, the cost was about $3.5 million,”Anderson told the Star. “So we’re hopeful that it will come in around there, but with prices today, I just really don’t know. We need to go to bid for it to see what contractors want it to be.”

As part of the USDA grant application, preliminary architectural drawings of the complex were completed.

Anderson said at the April 19 meeting that the city could hope to receive a 50/50 match grant, meaning the city would need to fund half of the project themselves, but the interest rates are low, causing commissioners to believe it the best source of funding.

“We’re not going to get a better deal than half price money at a low interest rate,” Buzzett said on April 19. 

He opened the floor to a motion, which was made by Commissioner for Group Three Brett Lowry and seconded by Commissioner for Group Four Scott Hoffman.

The city was not able to provide an exact timeline for hearing back from USDA, but they expect that there will be more requirements they have to meet before they are awarded the funding.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper NonDoc.com during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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