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New proposal for St. Petersburg municipal building leans into history

Four developers are in the running for the project at Fourth and Central. One wants to take the building back to its roots.

A St. Petersburg developer wants to take the city’s Municipal Services Center back to the past.

Months after soliciting bids for the building at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Fourth St. N, the city last week received an updated design submission from Blake Investment Partners, which would strip the building to its 1925 bones and restore its historic facade.

“If we can save the building and make it look like it used to look, it has a unique ability to both make money and preserve a bit of St. Pete’s character,” said developer Blake Whitney Thompson. “Right now, the building is so ugly that other applicants don’t even think it’s salvageable. Not only is it salvageable, it’s actually in great shape.”

Blake Investment Partners is one of four developers bidding on the project, which includes a new Municipal Services Center near City Hall and the purchase and development of the building at Fourth and Central. July 17 was the deadline for final and best offers, with all the city’s questions answered.

Related: Developers pitch options for downtown St. Petersburg site

Three of the proposals didn’t change that much from the submission deadline in January. Blake’s did.

In April, the group submitted several modern, airy design concepts, including one with a towering, sculpted pyramid above the entrance. Looking back, Thompson called it “a B-class office renovation.”

Based on old photos found at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, the new plan was developed with St. Petersburg architect Tim Clemmons, who worked on the Snell Arcade building just across Fourth Street.

The preservationist approach, Thompson said, is both in keeping with St. Petersburg’s downtown character and more likely to ensure community support. He said it runs counter to a “Fort Lauderdale approach to development, which is, build as much as you can on every single thing in town. I don’t think that’s where St. Pete’s headed. That’s not our past, and it’s certainly not what’s attracting everybody to move to St. Pete.”

Thompson said the design would add up to $500,000 to the cost of renovation, but his group’s initial $10 million bid would remain unchanged. He also said his team could seek tax credits for restoring the building to its historic appearance rather than tearing it down.

The other proposals up for consideration:

  • Property Markets Group, which has offices in Miami and New York, proposed $12 million for the existing building, saying it would add a hotel, retail, office space, parking garage and 500 condos. Since its initial offer, it has partnered with Tampa’s Feldman Equities on the proposal.
This rendering shows Property Management Group's potential design for a proposed renovation of St. Petersburg's Municipal Services Center at 1 Fourth St. N. The building would include a mix of retail, office, hotel and condo space. [ Property Management Group ]
  • Tampa’s Third Lake Partners and St. Petersburg’s Echelon teamed to propose $12.25 million for the building, which would initially be redesigned, then demolished and redeveloped “when market demands support it,” according to the proposal. All of this would happen in conjunction with a planned redevelopment at 200 Central Ave., which Third Lake purchased in 2017.
A partnership between Third Lake Partners and Echelon proposes to pay the city of St. Petersburg $12.25 million for the Municipal Services Center on Central Avenue at Fourth Street N. This rendering shows a proposed redevelopment that would add retail. The building would eventually be torn down to make way for a larger mixed-use development. [ Third Lake Partners/Echelon ]
  • The Allen Morris Co., which has offices in South Florida, would pay $8 million or $12 million for the building, depending on the amount of floor space the city approves. The new building would include a mix of office, retail and residential space.
This rendering shows the Allen Morris Co.'s potential design for a proposed renovation of St. Petersburg's Municipal Services Center and its surrounding block, along Central Avenue between Fourth St. N and Third St. N. The building would include a mix of retail, office and condo space. [ Allen Morris Co. ]

One initial bidder, Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co., has dropped out of the running, said a city spokesman.

The four proposals will go to Mayor Rick Kriseman for consideration; whichever is chosen must be approved by the City Council.

Thompson urged residents who value historic preservation to show support for his group’s plan.

“This is a rare spot where a developer, I would beg people to come out and comment on this,” he said. “Whatever gets built there will be there for all of our lifetimes. So whether you like my deal or you like someone else’s deal, now’s the time to pick up the phone.”