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City tries to attract courts complex

The city is offering to give its 4.6-acre Webb City site to the federal government in hopes of getting a mammoth new federal courts complex. In a special session Tuesday, City Council members voted unanimously to give the land _ appraised at $2.5-million _ in an attempt to attract the complex, which could be as large as 400,000 square feet.

There is, however, a catch. The city leases part of the land to AAA's Auto Club South for a parking lot.

According to the 99-year lease, which began in the early 1980s, the city must provide 90 parking spaces for the automobile club if it develops the parking lot.

Rick Mussett, community development administrator, called the lease a minor problem. "I don't see it as a major issue."

Council members, reeling from Monday's news that expansion baseball likely won't come to St. Petersburg, praised the federal courts complex as a way to revitalize the city's downtown.

Mayor David Fischer saw it as an opportunity to move past the disappointment of the baseball news.

"Today's been kind of a dark day and we've all had hundreds of questions about the future of the city," Fischer said. "We're going to continue pursuing the vitality of the city whenever we can."

Vice Mayor Connie Kone called the prospect of the federal courts complex an "absolutely marvelous" opportunity to bring workers and jobs to the city.

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

The council vote authorized the city to spend as much as $8,000 to develop plans and pay for travel to give presentations on why St. Petersburg should get the complex.

The prospect of a new federal courts complex _ to be built somewhere in Central Florida by 1995 _ has prompted a 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 staged 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.

The Webb City site is at the corner of M. L. King (Ninth) Street and First Avenue S.