ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster is recommending that the city pay nearly twice the appraised value for land needed for a new police headquarters.
The city needs the four downtown parcels — totalling 14,070 square feet — to start building the headquarters in about 17 months. In July, two independent appraisals valued the property at $351,000 and $343,000. Foster wants to pay $600,000 for it.
The city made the higher offer because the seller 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 City Council from Rick Mussett, the city's senior administrator of development.
However, a review of city records show that while the owner filed a site plan on March 18, 2011, and paid the $525 fee, the plan wasn't approved because additional required paperwork was never submitted.
Mussett did not return several calls for comment.
The property is owned by Pamela Carr, 60, the wife of former Pinellas County Judge Richard Carr who died last year.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the purchase Thursday.
Carr could not be reached for comment, but city records show she initially rejected the city's $353,000 offer and countered with $1.6 million. After further negotiations, Carr settled on $600,000 with the city paying closing costs up to $10,000, according to the council memo.
Mussett also wrote that the property is a "critical element" that allows the city to vacate an alley and a right-of-way, which will connect 55,391 square feet of land for the project.
Carr's site plan wasn't approved because she never submitted an application asking the city to vacate that same right-of-way.
Carr and her husband paid a total of $98,600 for the land in four separate transactions beginning in 1975 and ending in 2003. Two parcels are vacant, one holds a warehouse built in 1940 and another holds a small 1920s era home.
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.
Buddy Sauter, a commercial real estate broker in St. Petersburg, said site plans don't inflate property values and probably cost several thousand dollars for an architect to make the drawings.
"It's just a plan, a piece of paper," Sauter said. "The city needed the land. She negotiated a good price. Good for her. This is common."
The four parcels are across from the existing police building, situated between Second Avenue N and 13th Street N. The agreement allows Carr to occupy the property for one year. The city will deposit $100,000 from the sale into a escrow account, which Carr will not get until she vacates the property.
To recoup the $600,000 purchase price, the city will sell 2 acres of land on Central Avenue once the new station is built.
Paula Clair Smith, a broker-associate at Commercial Asset Partners in St. Petersburg, specializes in commercial land deals in the city. She stressed that City Council needs to examine the $600,000 purchase in the scope of the entire project, not by itself.
If a project needs crucial land, it's common to pay sellers more, Smith said. Plus, selling the Central Avenue land will help recoup money, she said.
"If it's a deal breaker, the city is at the mercy of the landowner," Smith said. "There is a price that makes sense for the city. It comes down to supply and demand."
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 new station.
As the economy slumped, tax revenues plummeted, forcing officials to scale back the plan.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.