GULFPORT — The city Police Department may move to new quarters in a proposed facility within the 49th Street corridor.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to seek a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay for designing the new police headquarters.
Actual construction would require another grant, city officials said.
"There seems to be a perception that there needs to be a higher police presence on 49th Street. Statistics show this is not a reality, but that is the perception," interim City Manager Jim O'Reilly told the council.
O'Reilly said the new Police Department building would be built behind the existing Gulfport Neighborhood Center, at 1617 49th St. S.
"Crime and the perception of crime are primary factors impeding economic development" in the 49th Street Redevelopment area, according to interim Police Chief Robert Vincent.
The area is roughly bounded by the Pinellas Trail, 49th Street S, 22nd Avenue S and 55th Street S. The city is currently considering changes to the area's redevelopment plan and related zoning and development codes.
The 49th Street corridor was designated as a blighted area in 1999 and despite several projects little has changed since then.
City officials cite the area's aging and rundown businesses that are often "aesthetically unappealing," excessive littering, poor drainage and flooding, narrow streets, lack of curbs and sidewalks.
In the past few years, the city built Tomlinson Lake Park, the neighborhood center, and participated in a Pinellas County building facade program for businesses.
A citizen committee focused on economic development has told city officials an increased police presence would "significantly enhance" the success of existing businesses, fill now-vacant storefronts with new businesses, and attract prospective buyers to vacant homes, Vincent said.
"There can be no better way to increase police presence than to move the police headquarters to what is arguably the centerpiece of the redevelopment area," Vincent said.
Currently, the 8,000-square-foot Police Department is located in City Hall at 2401 53rd St. S.
In addition to constructing a new building, Vincent said some offices — including reception, records and the police chief's — might be located at the neighborhood center. The Police Department already uses a small office at the center.
The public meeting space at the center would still be available to the community.
A covered walkway would connect the two buildings.
"I want to strongly support this concept, not because 49th is crime ridden, but to show support for 49th Street Redevelopment. A show of force by the police will enhance the economic potential for redevelopment," said Mayor Michael Yakes.
Council member Bob Worthington said the location would be a "wonderful place to have an emergency operations center."
Vincent said the site is outside of the hurricane flood zone.
The grant application anticipates the city will hire an architect to design the new Police Department within two months of receiving the grant. The design would be completed within another three months. No timetable has been set for construction or the actual relocation of the Police Department.