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St. Petersburg moves forward with scaled-down version of new police headquarters

ST. PETERSBURG — Almost three months after scrapping plans for a new $64 million police headquarters because of cost concerns, Mayor Bill Foster was back before the City Council on Thursday to present a scaled-down version of the project.

The latest plans call for a combination of rehabbing the decades-old buildings on First Avenue N and building an adjacent — and smaller — 111,000-square-foot building nearby. A parking garage and about 75,000 square feet of space met the budget ax. The project's new price tag: $40 million.

Construction could begin in 15 to 18 months, Foster said.

"We are going full force with the construction of a headquarters," Foster told council members during a workshop Thursday. "I feel comfortable recommending $40 million."

Council member Charlie Gerdes asked Foster if it was wise to move forward with a $40 million plan instead of waiting until the city could afford $65 million for a bigger facility.

"I want to make sure we are not compromising our Police Department just because we have a number" of $40 million, he said.

Foster said the best move is to build a smaller station now, adding that it will serve the immediate and future needs of the department. It won't be as many floors as originally planned, two to four, and have a wider footprint, which is cheaper.

It had been assumed that the new police station would remain at 1300 First Ave. N. Although the current building's gawky design and dilapidated condition are much maligned, police and city administrators prefer its location over others.

It's close to Tropicana Field and downtown, where there are a large number of calls. It also has easy access to the rest of the city because of the nearby interstate.

The city also would budget $1.6 million to buy and renovate an existing building to use for training.

The city has about $32 million for the project that comes from revenue raised from 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 bring in about $50 million for the new station.

St. Petersburg once envisioned a four-story, 200,000-square-foot, hurricane-reinforced building with a 400-space parking garage that could shield the entire police fleet from a storm, operate 24-7 and provide modern crime-fighting amenities like climate-controlled storage for DNA.

But as the economy slumped, tax revenues plummeted, leaving a gaping shortfall for the proposed station.

Right now the Police Department operates out of two buildings. The main four-story building is actually two buildings fused together. One half was built in the 1950s, the other in the 1970s. Across the street is an 80-year-old police annex.

That's 130,000 square feet of work space for a department that in 30 years has nearly doubled in size: The city now has up to 545 officers and 1,500 total employees and volunteers. By 2025, consultants estimated, the police will need 237,000 square feet.

"I think this makes sense to do," said council member Steve Kornell. "The construction costs are at the lowest point. We need to find a way to get this done."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg moves forward with scaled-down version of new police headquarters 06/21/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 22, 2012 12:10am]
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