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Webb City site proposed for courts

City Council members will be asked at a special session Tuesday to consider donating the city-owned Webb City site for a mammoth new federal courts complex. The donation could be used as a bargaining chip by U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Rocks Beach, who will appear before a House of Representatives committee in Washington, D.C., next week to lobby to bring the proposed complex to St. Petersburg.

"Of course it will help," Anthony Battaglia, president of the St. Petersburg Bar Association, said of the proposed donation.

City Manager Robert Obering has recommended that City Council members donate the 4.6-acre site _ appraised at $2.5-million _ to encourage the development of a 275,000- to 400,000-square-foot courts complex.

Construction of a 300,000-square-foot complex would cost about $35-million and would pump about $20-million into the economy in construction wages. The complex also would create 2,300 jobs and increase the demand for office space in the city, according to city estimates.

Obering also has recommended the city spend up to $8,000 to develop project plans and pay for travel to give presentations on why St. Petersburg should get the complex.

Harry Glenn, Young's spokesman, couldn't say how essential the proposed land donation would be, but added he thought it would help.

"Obviously in this time of fiscal stress, any time you can do a project at a lower cost, that's a positive step," Glenn said.

The prospect of a massive new federal courts complex _ to be built somewhere in the region by 1995 _ has prompted a years-long tug of war between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

So far, Tampa has been in the lead because of support from key federal judges. But in recent months St. Petersburg has been staging a comeback. Last month, St. Petersburg City Council members agreed to support the St. Petersburg Bar Association's attempts to bring the complex to the city.

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said the land donation in swap for the complex was an "interesting concept" that could be a good deal for the city.

"That's an idea and it may notbe a bad one," Fischer said. "The courts complex is important to us. It would be extremely stimulating for downtown."

Council member Edward L. Cole Jr. said the donation sounded like a good trade-off.

"If that's what it requires, that might be a good idea," Cole said. "I guess that's the way you get a federal building and federal money _ by making a contribution. To get a project like that really would be a shot in the arm for the city."

Council member Leslie Curran offered unabashed support for the proposal.

"I'm behind it 100 percent," Curran said. "I think it would be a great opportunity for this city and I think we ought to do everything we can to secure it."

The Webb City site is at the corner of M.

L. King (Ninth) Street and First Avenue S.