WESTMINSTER — With excuses to Mark Twain, reports of the demise of a proposed CityHall expansion and renovation have been greatly exaggerated.
The $3.4 million project has merely been put on the back burner.
But that will change tomorrow when members of the public are given an opportunity to speak about the project during a hearing before the City Council.
The council is wrestling with two different pictures of providing much-needed office space for city government. One recommendation, actually approved by the council last summer, calls fora $3.4 million renovation and addition.
The other is leasing office space in the city. That option, which is seen by some as more palatable in an economic downturn, prompted the panel to table design bids, the first phase of the $3.4 million project, in December. They also voted to hold a public hearing.
Caught in the tug of war is Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who initially approved the renovation project and then voted to table the bids.
Chapin isn't saying whichway he is leaning.
"I'm a very receptive person to public opinion," Chapin said. "I'm hoping people will get out and give us the message. That's what we're here for."
Like other council members, he has concerns about forging ahead with a multimillion dollar project during lean budget times.
"A lot of things have changed since we tooka vote in August," he said.
And as chairman of the council's Finance Committee, Chapin said he is keenly aware of the budget constraints facing the city.
"There's a lot of concern about what will be done to City Hall," said Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein. "There are people saying that there are empty buildings downtown and we should usethem (for office space)."
David Max, who along with this brother Robert owns the Winchester Exchange building downtown, favors the rental option.
"I'd much rather see them rent space," Max said, acknowledging he could benefit from such a move. "I'd truly love to see them take that money and build a parking lot down here. The money wouldbe much more wisely spent building a parking garage."
Max said there is a severe parking need downtown. Building a parking garage, he said, would benefit both downtown workers and visitors.
"When you can show people ample parking, they'll stop moving out from downtown to places like the airport," he said.
Michael Mason, a real estateleasing agent, agreed.
"I think for the time being the city oughtto look for a place already available in Westminster," he said. "It will save the city money and help the downtown economy because there are a lot of vacancies right now."