ST. PETERSBURG— Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Saturday that he has struck a deal with Pinellas County that will allow the city to build a new police headquarters all at once. The revelation was the highlight of his first State of the City address from the steps of City Hall.
In figuring out the financing for a $70 million facility, Kriseman might have found a solution to a problem that has bedeviled two previous administrations. He told the crowd he had reached an agreement in principle with the county to redirect Penny for Pinellas money. Both the City Council and the County Commission, however, will need to approve it.
Many of the 250 or so gathered at the steps of City Hall on a blustery morning welcomed the news that police will get a state-of-the-art home able to withstand at least a Category 4 hurricane. As recently as 14 months ago, the city had said it might need to build the facility in phases.
"It's so overdue. It's a pressing, critical need," council member Darden Rice said. "It makes sense to do construction all at once in terms of cost savings." Council members Bill Dudley and Steve Kornell also said they were inclined to support the plan.
But previous attempts to funnel Penny money has met public opposition and divided council members. On Saturday, council member Wengay Newton questioned which Penny for Pinellas projects would be scuttled or curtailed to find the money. Kriseman's staff said after the speech that they hadn't decided which projects to draw from.
The new headquarters is to be built across First Avenue N from the existing station and will last for seven decades, Kriseman said. The current headquarters, cobbled together from two buildings, has long been acknowledged as too small and antiquated for the agency, lacking even enough room to store evidence or question people.
In his speech, the mayor also announced that Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin will oversee a "Healthy St. Pete" initiative to partner with the private sector to foster healthy lifestyle options. But he didn't go into much detail on the program in his 27-minute speech.
Reaction to Kriseman's address was mostly positive. Many in the crowd were city employees and politicians, including U.S. Rep. David Jolly, state Reps. Darryl Rouson and Dwight Dudley, and seven council members. But plenty of residents turned out, as well.
Monique Comer, 31, owner of a thrift and boutique store in south St. Petersburg, said she appreciated Kriseman's attention to her neighborhood.
"I agree with the strides he's trying to make for the underprivileged and for the betterment of our city," she said.
Kriseman urged all city residents to get behind an effort to fight poverty and improve neighborhoods in some parts of south St. Petersburg: "Help us blur the lines, help us move this historic area into its next chapter."
Previous mayors have tried to bolster the city's poorer neighborhoods with infrastructure improvements, Rouson said. "This mayor knows it's not building buildings, but building up people," he said.
On a morning so windy that Kriseman's blue tie often ended up brushing his shoulders, the sun dramatically appeared just as he started to speak.
"There's my sun," he said. "I was a little worried."
He then launched into his oft-repeated refrain of St. Petersburg as a city "where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play."
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.