Construction of the Inverness Depot District is underway and slated for completion in December, but City Manager Frank DiGiovanni is asking his city council to look further out.

During the council’s regularly scheduled public meeting this week, DiGiovanni proposed that his council bosses consider overhauling the exterior of the city’s building on 401 N. Apopka Ave, currently leased to Boys & Girls Clubs of Citrus County. DiGiovanni said the organization still has 17 years on its lease and pays a nominal fee annually for its use.

Built in 1988, the 7,000 square-foot building has an aging metal shell and is an eye sore within sight of Liberty Park to its southeast and the Withlacoochee State Trail to its south and northwest.

DiGiovanni’s proposal is to add a façade to the exterior of the building, at least to the areas visible by the park and front. He told the council he did not know the cost at this point.

“This is something we may not be ready to do short term, but the city council at least has something and the Boys & Girls Club can take and keep excitement about,” he said.

The artistic rendering is preliminary, he said, and could change.

Given the city invested $10.5 million in its Depot District and additional millions in other downtown road projects, DiGiovanni said the old building poorly stands out. It began as the city’s public works department building and later police headquarters.

“This gives an enhanced look at something, quite frankly, is deplorable and is in great need of attention,” he said.

The Depot District will open “in months, not years and we have a pretty shoddy building nearby,” he said.

DiGiovanni said he hadn't met with the Boys & Girls Club.   

DiGiovanni suggested the façade should work with the basic tenets of the building as it now exists, namely the entrance remains the entrance and the windows also stay in place.

“We’re making use of everything that’s there. What you see as siding (in the rendering) is actually metal pieces used on sky scrapers and other buildings throughout America,” he said.

“We wanted to create a usable space,” DiGiovanni said, adding it would lift the children’s spirits using the building and fit better into the downtown renovations.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Citrus County recently spent $350,000 renovating the inside of the building. DiGiovanni said once the lease ends, the city could decide about the building’s use and continuing its relationship with the club.

“It’s still a city building,” he said.

As to leasing the structure to the club, DiGiovanni said the city wasn’t playing favorites, but in the same vein rented ball fields to organized sports teams, provided storage space to rowing organizations and the city garden to gardeners.

The council told DiGiovanni overhauling the building was the right move, but didn’t give him a timeline or a budget.

“I really do like the idea of cleaning up the building that is there now,” said Council president Ken Hinkle. “Because it really is an eyesore.”

“The only thing we have now is a conceptual design and just wanted to show what this building could be,” DiGiovanni said.

In unrelated city council business, the council agreed unanimously to replace the city’s code enforcement board with a special magistrate to rule on cases. The magistrate would answer only to the council, not DiGiovanni.

The council selected Inverness lawyer Michael Kovach for the job. He was the only applicant.

“He is familiar with the operations of city government and the community in general. We see this as a good fit,” DiGiovanni wrote the council.

The city will pay Kovach $250 per hour for magistrate related work. That would include reviewing complaints, research, holding violation hearings, and any other related work.

The term of the contract would be through Sept. 30, 2020. The city and magistrate are allowed to end the contract without cause following a written 60-day notice to the other party.

Councilman David Ryan said that given there may not be code enforcement cases for months at a time, it has always been difficult to get volunteers to sit on the board. So a magistrate is the best remedy, he said.

The council also voted unanimously to approve new guidelines overseeing council members’ travel and reimbursement.

Under the guidelines, the event or travel assignment must be approved by the city council during a public meeting and must include the estimated cost of the trip.

In evaluating out-of-state trips, the council would consider:

*Whether the elected official would be receiving training on issues relevant to the city.

*Whether the elected official would meet with others to discuss issues relevant to the city.

*Whether the elected official would travel to view a facility or function that is similar to one operated by the city and to return with information relevant to the city.

*Should the elected official travel to form a goodwill relationship with others such as a “sister-city” relationship.

*Whether the elected official has been selected to testify before Congress or meet with federal officials.

*Whether the city can afford to reimburse travel expenses.

For more details, visit the city’s website for travel restrictions.

The council also agreed to move forward in asking the Citrus County Commission to help pay for improvements to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from U.S. 41 and Dampier Street.

The potential request goes back decades.

In a proposed letter to the Citrus County commission, the city council explained that in 1988, the county commission and the city agreed to share expenses to improve Park Avenue, now called Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Back then, the total estimated cost was $62,000, with the county agreeing to pay $15,000 of the cost.

“Thirty-one years later, we find ourselves ready to commence construction at a cost that is many times more than the acceptable figure in 1988,” states the proposed letter.

Those improvements today are part of the city’s improvements to both North Dampier Street and MLK Avenue at a cost of $1.2 million. Parts of the project are funded by federal Community Development Block Grants. The project includes realigning part of MLK, adding sidewalks, and landscaping.

DiGiovanni told the Chronicle that the city originally asked the county to pitch in because MLK was predominately used by county workers and visitors to go to county facilities. The MLK portion of the project will cost about $500,000, DiGiovanni told the council. Some of that money will includes state grants.

But Councilman Cabot McBride said that the city should ask the county commission to pay 25% of the cost, as it agreed to decades ago.

The letter asks if the county commission is still willing to contribute to the road repairs and “to see if the BOCC would be willing (to) maintain the spirit of cooperation in 1988 by adjusting the $15,000 amount by an inflationary index of 3% per year spanning a period of 31 years.”

That would raise the amount for the county to $37,500.

DiGiovanni said he would return to the council with two versions of the letter: one asking for the $37,500 and the second asking for the 25% share, but would have to determine the exact cost of the MLK project that included the county commission’s involvement.

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Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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