Advertisement

Pinellas sets sights on land for new government headquarters

County commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to buy the property, near U.S. 19 and Ulmerton Road, for $33 million.
 
The Pinellas County Courthouse, at 315 Court St. in downtown Clearwater, is the heart of the county's sprawling government campus. An effort to consolidate the operations and move them closer to the county's center could take a step forward Tuesday if county commissioners approve the purchase of 21 acres near Ulmerton Road and U.S. 19.
The Pinellas County Courthouse, at 315 Court St. in downtown Clearwater, is the heart of the county's sprawling government campus. An effort to consolidate the operations and move them closer to the county's center could take a step forward Tuesday if county commissioners approve the purchase of 21 acres near Ulmerton Road and U.S. 19. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 10, 2023|Updated Nov. 10, 2023

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County officials have settled on what they say is the ideal home for a new county government campus: a 21-acre parcel of land off Ulmerton Road, just east of U.S. 19.

County commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to buy the land for more than $33 million. Should they do so — they showed little hesitancy discussing the prospect during a County Commission work session Thursday — the county would aim to close the deal by the end of the year, marking a major step forward in its long-gestating efforts to move out of downtown Clearwater and closer to the center of the county.

The new site, at 13600 Icot Blvd., is a stone’s throw from the spot that a real estate consulting firm hired by the county pegged as Pinellas’ weighted population center. County Administrator Barry Burton said the fact that the site is near major roads, in a part of the county more convenient to more residents than the current Clearwater headquarters, made it appealing.

“People don’t come to a county government facility every day,” Burton said. “There’s something to be said for that easy access to residents. We tried to balance that with costs, and we just kept coming back to this site.”

Commissioner Brian Scott said Thursday that he worried the county could be poised to pay too much, after initial county appraisals of the site calculated its value as about $27 million. But Assistant County Administrator Kevin Knutson said the county’s appraisals didn’t account for the ramifications of Florida’s Live Local Act, which took effect earlier this year and allows developers to build affordable housing even on land that doesn’t have residential zoning.

The prospect of residential development has made nonresidential land — such as the Icot Boulevard site, which is zoned for office space — more valuable. Knutson said the county’s appraisers agreed the asking price of $33 million was a fair deal, considering the change.

The land last sold in 2015 for nearly $11 million, according to property records. A former car lot, it’s currently home to the headquarters of a health care management firm and, on the weekend, a flea market. Property and business records show that the company that owns the land is registered to Dale Schmidt, the president and CEO of the health care firm, Community Health Solutions of America.

Pinellas officials have for years considered moving out of downtown Clearwater, where county departments are spread across more than a dozen buildings. Many of those buildings were built in the 1970s or earlier, and county officials have said they’re outdated and expensive to maintain.

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“The windows in your office — you can see wind coming through,” Burton told commissioners Thursday, calling the county’s current offices “very, very energy-inefficient.”

Pinellas and Clearwater officials have also said a move could be transformative for the city’s downtown, citing the potential for development on the land the county would sell. Those sales would also help pay for the new county government center. The county has estimated the total cost of the new campus, including moving and construction, to be between $263 million and $334 million.

The 42,000-square-foot building now on the property would be demolished. Though the county originally hoped to find a property with existing buildings it could refurbish, Burton said, “there was nothing that was really available that you wouldn’t have to add on to.

“When you started adding and rehabbing, the costs came in very similar,” he said. “Instead, you have this opportunity to build your campus.”