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Work will soon start on county's new public safety complex in Largo

Published Sep. 11, 2012

LARGO — Work will start soon on Pinellas County's new $81 million public safety complex on Ulmerton Road, which nearly prompted a legal battle between the city and the county last year.

The revelation last year that Largo would charge the county $205,000 more in permitting and inspection fees than the county would charge itself prompted a monthslong legal debate between the two sides. They eventually agreed to split the permitting work and do it at the county's rates.

Largo issued the final permit last month for the complex, which will replace the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office administration building at 10750 Ulmerton Road.

Foundation work should start shortly, according to Paul Sacco, the county's director of real estate management. The project has a 26-month timetable, which means finishing in late 2014.

The Sheriff's Office administration building will be demolished as part of the work. It will be replaced with a three-story, 218,000-square-foot building that will also house the 911 dispatch center and the county's emergency operations center, currently located in downtown Clearwater.

Plans also call for a four-story, 1,300-vehicle parking garage, an energy plant for the complex and a vehicle maintenance building, all built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Sacco said he doesn't expect construction to have much of an impact on traffic on Ulmerton Road, which is already undergoing a two-year road-widening project that won't end until late 2013. The new complex probably won't have much of an economic impact on Largo either, since there will only be a few dozen more full-time employees working there.

Still, Largo Community Development director Carol Stricklin sees positives in Pinellas County moving vital operations to Largo.

"Pinellas County is making a significant investment, so that's always a positive for the community," she said.

The squabble over permit fees spurred the county to pass the so-called "pre-emption" ordinance last fall, which exempted facilities of "countywide significance" — like courthouses, county parks, and health and welfare facilities — from city regulations.

Officials from cities that house county facilities complained that the ordinance gave the county carte blanche to do whatever it wanted in city limits, like put digital billboards on county buildings in St. Petersburg.

County officials said those concerns were overhyped, but declined to scrap the ordinance as Largo City Manager Mac Craig and others requested. Instead, the county staff negotiated an agreement with Largo for permitting for this project. St. Petersburg is still negotiating a similar agreement with the county.

"It's really a great example of interlocal cooperation," Stricklin said, "that we were able to sit down and negotiate an agreement."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com.

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