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St. Petersburg Housing Authority wants a new office building — but already owns one

ST. PETERSBURG — After the St. Petersburg Housing Authority paid twice the publicly appraised value for land for a new headquarters, the agency called it the best deal it could find.

But near the Jordan Park public housing complex, there's a 10,700-square-foot building for sale.

The owner? The housing authority.

The housing authority wants $1.2 million for its Center for Achievement building, an 8-year-old building that St. Petersburg College leases for its Midtown campus.

College officials say they need more space and are looking to relocate elsewhere in Midtown.

The housing authority met Thursday but did not discuss using the college building for its headquarters. Instead, the group talked only of going forward with the building's sale, at the urging of the authority's chief executive officer, Darrell Irions.

In July, the housing authority paid $1 million for 5 vacant acres near Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275.

The housing authority did not obtain an appraisal before buying the foreclosed land, which was valued at $501,000 by the Pinellas County property appraiser.

"I really think that they've made a number of real estate decisions that have been wrong," said St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents Midtown and attended Thursday's meeting.

The authority had planned to spend $1.2 million to build a 13,000-square-foot office building for its 30 employees that would include a wellness center with separate bathrooms for men and women, plus a separate entrance for Irions' office.

But all 18 of the construction bids it received exceeded its budget, stalling the project.

The housing authority decided Thursday to sell 3 of the 5 acres it purchased on Gandy — after an appraisal is done. The board also agreed to continue with plans to build a headquarters there — with changes.

"No problem moving that door?" Irions quipped.

Project architect Robert Wedding said the design could be changed with little noticeable effect to bring the project back within budget. Wedding defended the project as "utilitarian" and not a "Taj Mahal."

"It is a little bigger than we expected. We were shooting for 10,000 (square feet)," he said.

Irions told the board that political and media opinions should "carry no more weight than Joe Blow on the street."

But afterward, board member David Welch suggested that the Gandy purchase price and the headquarters' location didn't sit well with him. He was the only person to vote against the new office location last year, saying he wanted the office closer to the core of its customer base.

"I didn't have any input," Welch said, adding that the sale option was only "presented" to him. Asked whether the lack of an appraisal bothered him, he said, "I like to have things to back me up."

Irions declined interview requests this week. He shut his office door as a reporter approached to ask questions Thursday.

In an e-mailed statement, he said the housing authority wants the building to be an educational resource, not a housing office. The housing authority also needs to have a central office in a low-poverty area to "expose the families we serve to other housing and economic opportunities."

The authority's sale packet for the building in Midtown describes its 61 parking spaces as "ample" and notes a code-compliant child care space, large meeting rooms and a big reception area.

The housing authority, which is independent of City Hall and runs mostly on federal funding, did not provide any reports about its space needs.

During the meeting, Irions said he and college officials plan to continue discussing whether SPC wants to buy the building or continue its month-to-month lease. But in an interview, college vice president Susan Reiter discounted the idea of buying a building that doesn't meet SPC's space needs.

The building is listed for sale along with the 16,000-square-foot Jordan Park Gym, a recreation center leased to a nonprofit helping underprivileged youths in Midtown. The Advantage Village Academy has requested that its rent be lowered, and Nurse urged the board to do so out of civic obligation.

"Many of the children there are children of Jordan Park," Nurse said.

Advantage Village Academy owner Toriano Parker has said the nonprofit could not afford to buy the gym, listed for $875,000, or to continue to pay the roughly $4,000 monthly rent.

At Nurse's request, the housing authority agreed to schedule a workshop to consider lowering the rent.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

St. Petersburg Housing Authority wants a new office building — but already owns one 01/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 6:58am]
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