Foster warned housing chief of 'Taj Mahal'
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who appoints members of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, told Times reporter Michael Van Sickler on Friday afternoon that he warned the authority's chief about scrutiny over a proposed headquarters. That office, planned off Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275, now is drawing flak for the high price of land and add-ons to its design, such as a separate exit for CEO Darrell Irions, after a story in Friday's Times. The bids came in well above estimates.
Foster said he met with Irions earlier this week -- as the story was being prepared -- and told him that the proposed project better not be a Taj Mahal.
"I said there's a lot of scrutiny with the use of the people's money. I said this project will be greatly scrutinized."
Foster stopped short of calling it a Taj Mahal himself. He said he had already been told by Irions that it was over budget, and took it as a chance to look at alternatives.
"I said, "Let's back up and take a breath,'" Foster said. "'Do nothing until I meet with the board (in February).' In my discussion with (Irions), I said I would like to look at potential office development, short of new construction and that I also wanted to look at scaling back the existing proposed office."
"So the bids coming in higher, I looked at, as kind of an opportunity," Foster said.