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Downtown St. Petersburg new home for 2nd District Court of Appeal

The courthouse will be named after former Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who died in January.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal, which meets in Tampa, currently leases space in the Stetson Law Center near downtown. On Wednesday, a new permanent location for the courthouse was announced for downtown St. Pete.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal, which meets in Tampa, currently leases space in the Stetson Law Center near downtown. On Wednesday, a new permanent location for the courthouse was announced for downtown St. Pete. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Dec. 16, 2021|Updated Dec. 16, 2021

A new $50 million courthouse for the 2nd District Court of Appeal will be built in downtown St. Petersburg near other government buildings, state lawmakers announced Thursday, ending months of speculation on its destination after a showdown among Republicans.

On Thursday, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced the courthouse will be in the Sebring Building at 525 Mirror Lake Drive North, a block from St. Petersburg City Hall and down the street from the Pinellas County Clerk of Court.

The courthouse will be named after Bernie McCabe, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney who died in January of this year. Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, worked under McCabe as a prosecutor and made the courthouse’s name and location a top priority.

The court, one of the busiest in the nation, serves a population of 6 million. It hears appeals from trial court decisions in five of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits located across 14 counties that sprawl from Pasco to Collier counties and from Tampa Bay to Lake Okeechobee. Sixteen judges serve the court.

Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls.
Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]

“There is no one more deserving of this honor than the late Bernie McCabe — my friend, my mentor, and a stalwart public servant,” Sprowls said in a Thursday statement.

Florida’s lawmakers agreed there was a need for a new courthouse — cases for the district have been held out of a Tampa classroom because the existing courthouse, in Lakeland, had mold that made people sick.

But the new home divided state Republicans. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, suggested building the new courthouse in the Polk County city. Stargel’s husband, John Stargel, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is a judge for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Lakeland is the official center in state law for the district, and the court was established there in 1956. Stargel said the new courthouse would bring jobs to the area.

But population growth moved the epicenter of the district westward. Overwhelming demand led to a Tampa location in 1979.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argued that that while the Legislature designated Lakeland in the 1950s, today most of the court’s work is based in and around Tampa Bay. A 2016 legislative study suggested the new location should be in Pinellas or Hillsborough.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he had been pushing for the courthouse to be built in his district of St. Petersburg.

“I waded into a battle between an appropriations chair and a fellow senator from St. Pete to speak up for it,” Rouson said. “This will mean jobs, which is badly needed right now.”

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Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, commended Sprowls’ work securing the money for the new courthouse.

In 2020, lawmakers allotted $21 million for a new courthouse, which was vetoed by DeSantis as the budget was realigned for the pandemic.

“The Florida Department of Management Services is honored to be a part of designing and building a courthouse that reflects the important work of the Court and the services it provides to Floridians,” said Todd Inman, secretary of management services for the state.

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