Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Pot of money for new St. Petersburg police station grows, despite residents' protests

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ST. PETERSBURG — The city is probably years away from building a new police station.

There is no official plan yet for the project, and sometime next year, city staff will present the council with three options.

Yet Monday, after two hours of public discussion, city leaders decided to throw an additional $3.1 million toward the project.

It was a compromise of sorts.

The city administration originally went before the council with a recommendation to transfer $4.77 million in Penny for Pinellas funds to the public safety fund for the police station.

That didn't sit well with more than 50 residents who had packed City Hall, or with council members Karl Nurse and Wengay Newton, who accused the administration of making a "grab" at money slated for neighborhood and recreation projects.

"What makes this idea astounding is you don't even know what plan you will go with," said former council candidate Lorraine Margeson. "How do you even know you need this extra money?"

Mayor Bill Foster brushed off the criticism. "This is not a want," he said. "This is a need."

Council member Bill Dudley said officers — including the half-dozen in the crowd — deserve a better station than the current one, which he called "embarrassing."

Other council members were frustrated that they didn't have more information from the city. "We're being led down a path with bread crumbs," Jeff Danner said.

Council member Charlie Gerdes suggested shifting some, but not all, of the money to the public safety fund. His plan passed 4-3, with Steve Kornell, Jim Kennedy and Dudley voting no. Leslie Curran was absent.

"I think it's a fair reflection of the priorities and the struggle to do the right thing all around," Gerdes said.

The city has debated about a new police station for four years. Last week, city staffers said they will present the council with three new options.

The first would cost about $40 million and include a 92,000-square-foot building on the north side of First Avenue N, where the current 1920s-era training building now sits. Other parts of the current complex would be abandoned, and administrators would continue to work out of the 1970s-era headquarters.

The second, $50 million option would be a slightly larger structure and involve a tear-down of the old building.

The third option, projected to cost $68 million, would be an all-encompassing 187,000-square-foot building near the current location. The city would sell the land that now houses the station parking lot and headquarters.

The council has previously tried to cap the cost at $50 million.

Foster warned that no matter how much money the city pulled from the Penny funds, it may not be enough.

After the meeting, residents filed out. Many said they were frustrated but relieved that all of the money was not moved.

"I truly believe our Police Department needs a new headquarters," said community activist Lisa Wheeler Brown. But neighborhoods also need money, she said.

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