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St. Pete council votes to buy land for nearly twice appraised value

ST. PETERSBURG — City taxpayers will pay $600,000 for property valued at $351,000 so the city can cobble together land to build a new police station.

The City Council voted 5-3 Thursday to approve the purchase of four parcels totaling 14,070 square feet near the existing police headquarters.

Construction will start on the $40 million project in about 16 months.

In July, two independent appraisals valued the property at $351,000 and $343,000. The seller originally asked for $1.6 million.

Council member Wengay Newton said the city shouldn't pay more than the land is worth.

"We're going to pay twice the appraised value of the land," he said. "I'm not going to support it."

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran and council member Jeff Danner also voted no.

Mayor Bill Foster said it is critical for the city to buy the parcels to allow the city to put 50,000 square feet of land together.

With that, the new building could be wider instead of higher. That also lowers the cost, he added.

"We have to have it," he said. "It's not going to get any cheaper."

While voting yes, council member Steve Kornell said he doesn't want to set a precedent where "everyone thinks they're going to get a windfall" from the city.

Council member Karl Nurse approved the purchase and said it is common for sellers to hold out for more money when they have the final piece of land for a project.

"For taxpayers, it's a good deal," he said.

The property is owned by Pamela Carr, 60, the wife of former Pinellas County Judge Richard Carr, who died last year.

The four parcels are across from the existing police building, situated between Second Avenue N and 13th Street N.

The city made the higher offer, in part, because Carr had an "approved site plan" that called for a 12-story residential building with 64 units and 5,000 square feet of retail space, according to a memo sent to the City Council.

The city began discussing a master plan for the police headquarters in 2010.

Carr filed a site plan the following year, two months before the City Council first authorized the land purchase in May 2011.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that the site plan was never approved because Carr failed to submit required paperwork.

Bruce Grimes, a real estate director for the city, told the council that it would be more costly to take the land through eminent domain.

He said it took about a year to get Carr to agree to the $600,000.

So far, the city has about $32 million for the project that comes from revenue raised by Pinellas County's voter-approved penny sales tax.

The station had been a flagship project used to promote the tax, which initially was expected to produce about $50 million for the headquarters.

As the economy slumped, tax revenues plummeted, forcing officials to scale back the plan.

The city bought other parcels for the project last year.

St. Pete council votes to buy land for nearly twice appraised value 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 10:49pm]
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