TAMPA — The price tag for one of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's big dreams could top $17 million, and he is ready to pay a premium to make it happen.
For more than two years, Buckhorn has talked about moving city utility trucks off 12 acres near the Rick's on the River restaurant.
That would let City Hall market the land to developers as part of a much larger redevelopment of a 120-acre area being called the "West River."
But relocating those 272 vehicles and 250 employees won't come cheaply. The costs include a proposed $941,000 real estate deal in which the city could pay 60 percent more for a piece of land than the value estimated by two appraisals.
It's worth it, Buckhorn said Tuesday, because redeveloping the city's truck yard will stimulate development in the larger West River area north of Interstate 275.
"I look at public money as seed money that will bring private capital to the table," he said. Most of the West River area, he said, "will be developed by private developers, not by the government. The return on investment for what I put in is significantly multiplied by the private development that will come after."
The city's water and wastewater operations yard is at 2609 N Rome Ave., two blocks south of W Columbus Drive. That, Buckhorn notes, is just a block from the Hillsborough River, with great views of downtown. The West River plan suggests it could be a good spot for midrise apartments.
In early 2012, Buckhorn said the cost to move the water and wastewater operations from Rome Avenue could be $10 million.
Now the total is expected to be at least $17 million. That includes $2.17 million to buy nearly 8 acres for a new Water Department operations hub on N 40th Street, plus $15 million to design and build new operations facilities for the Water and Wastewater departments.
The city already paid $950,000 in November 2012 to buy 5.8 acres near the corner of N 40th Street and E 26th Avenue. Two appraisals valued that property at $980,000 and $1.09 million.
On Thursday, Buckhorn's administration will ask the City Council to approve two more purchases near the same intersection:
• $220,000 for seven-tenths of an acre owned by a land trust whose sole trustee is Norma J. Padron. The property has an appraised value of $230,000.
• $941,688 for 1.4 acres owned by Tampa Bay Holdings LLC, whose officers are Ronald and Kristie Horton. Two appraisals commissioned by the city put the property's value at $550,000 and $585,200.
Buckhorn said the fact that there's an existing business — a vehicle repair company called American Hydraulics — that needs to be moved drove the purchase price above the appraisals.
"It's not a vacant piece of property," Buckhorn said. "It's a viable business that we have to pay to relocate, which is why the purchase price is a little bit higher."
On Tuesday, several City Council members said they hadn't dug into the details yet but generally wanted more information about the proposed purchases, the appraisals and the larger scope of the project.
The idea of paying 60 percent more than the appraised price for the Tampa Bay Holdings land drew mixed reactions.
"I wouldn't want to see the city pay more than is appraised," council member Frank Reddick said.
"This is a lot of money," council member Lisa Montelione said, but "it's only going to cost us more to do it later."
Council member Mike Suarez said the price the city now faces likely was driven up by its nearby 2012 purchase. Once the city bought the first piece, surrounding property owners knew it needed the last piece, he said.
The council also is scheduled to vote Thursday on paying nearly $1.25 million to the construction firm Cutler Associates to design the new facilities.
The Water Department would move its Rome Avenue operations to a new $6.4 million facility on N 40th Street, just south of the city's Public Works facility.
The Wastewater Department would move its Rome Avenue operations to a new $7.4 million home at the Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant at Port Tampa Bay.
Construction at both locations is expected to include offices and maintenance facilities, fueling areas and storage for equipment and materials.
No developers have approached the city about the Rome Avenue site, officials said.
For now, officials can't say what the site might be worth, and it might not even be sold. Instead, it could be developed through a public-private venture.
In any case, Buckhorn said it might be 18 months to three years before officials seek development proposals.