UPC Insurance to build new St. Pete headquarters, bring 300 jobs

Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg, as seen from the air in 2016. The Edge District is northeast of the Trop. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg, as seen from the air in 2016. The Edge District is northeast of the Trop. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published October 4
Updated October 5

ST. PETERSBURG — UPC Insurance has pledged to spend $5 million to buy the 800 block of First Avenue S and build its headquarters there in a deal that could bring 300 jobs to the city.

The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a development agreement with the local company, which was founded in St. Petersburg in 1999. The final contract must come back before the council for final approval.

The city-owned land next to Tropicana Field was once a potential site for the new headquarters of Jabil, an electronics manufacturer that is one of Tampa Bay's biggest public companies. But Jabil announced in February that it would instead rebuild and expand its current campus in the Gateway area.

RELATED: Jabil will rebuild its existing headquarters instead of moving near the Trop

That opened up the city's land to other buyers. Council members heaped praise upon the UPC deal, saying it is exactly the kind of development they want in the city: a growing company that will expand downtown, offer high-paying jobs and generate property tax revenue.

"This agreement really checks all the boxes," City Council member Amy Foster said. "This is the type of jobs we promised we wanted to bring to our city when we all ran for office."

Company president John Forney told council that the company was "born and raised in St. Petersburg" and is excited to expand downtown..
"Our city has blossomed in a way that I have never seen during my time here," said Forney, who has lived here since 1990. "(The city) has become, for us, one of our most important recruiting tools."

Under the deal the city agreed to sell the land, which has an estimated market value of more than $8 million, to UPC for $5 million. UPC's capital costs to build new offices and the parking garage are expected to exceed $50 million.

In addition to building 150,000-square-feet of much-needed Class A office space downtown and bringing hundreds of high-end jobs, UPC would also build a parking garage with 500 spaces. Those spots would be available to the public on nights and weekends.

The additional parking is projected to save the city $4.5 million that would otherwise have been spent to add parking downtown.

RELATED: St. Petersburg needs — and wants — to offer more office space

"This is exactly what our city needs," Council member Ed Montanari said. "The combination of class A office space, the parking. Every aspect of it is good."

UPC Insurance is the new brand of United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, the ninth-largest property insurer in the state in terms of the number of policies in force. According to the most recent data available, UPC had 159,170 active policies in the second quarter of the year, accounting for just over 2.5 percent of the market.

Once UPC's new offices are finished, it is expected to generate more than $200,000 in annual property taxes, or more than $2 million over 10 years.
The council was particularly excited about the type of jobs the company would bring. UPC reported a median wage of more than $80,000.

But Council member Steve Kornell wanted to make sure those high-paying jobs were available to local residents, too, not just recent graduates from outside the city.

To motivate local hiring, the city will pay a $10,000 credit to UPC for every employee it hires from within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, which includes most of Midtown, Greater Childs Park and other neighborhoods. Those credits will be capped at $250,000.

In 2017, almost one in four residents of the area lived in a household that took in $15,000 or less in annual income, according to the community profile.

"I just want us to dig deeper in every way we can to make sure some of our citizens are getting the training they need to get those $80,000 jobs," Kornell said.

Related: Reimagining the Trop: A riverwalk, a convention center, a new name?

UPC's current headquarters is located on part of the 800 block of Second Avenue S. The sale would allow the company to expand one block north and potentially to the rest of the Second Avenue S block. UPC discussed building future projects such as a hotel and retail space on that land.

The development plans also align with the city's "Grow Smarter" strategy, said Council member Gina Driscoll. That economic development strategy aims to expand growth in sectors such as marine and life sciences, specialized manufacturing (think Jabil) and financial services (like UPC).

The project also would help enhance the Edge District while kick-starting some of the growth that is poised to be spurred by the coming redevelopment of the 86-acre Tropicana Field site, Driscoll said.

"It could not be a better start to the Trop redevelopment to have partner like UPC," said Alan DeLisle, the city's development administrator.

UPC operates through the brand name United Property & Casualty Insurance Co. An earlier version of this story online cited an incorrect name.

Times staff writer Malena Carollo contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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