CLEARWATER — Pinellas County will spend $33 million to buy land where it plans to build a new, more centrally located government headquarters in the coming years.
County commissioners approved the purchase in a 6-1 vote Tuesday, taking a major step toward fulfilling the county’s long-gestating interest in moving away from its sprawling, outdated campus in downtown Clearwater.
The property, 21 acres at 13600 Icot Blvd., is off Ulmerton Road and just east of U.S. 19 — nearly the exact spot a real estate consulting firm hired by the county pinpointed as Pinellas’ population center. That factor proved especially attractive, with county officials saying the headquarters needs to be more accessible to the public than the current offices.
“I don’t think we could’ve picked a better location than this,” said Commissioner Kathleen Peters, who was also named the board’s chairperson for the next year during Tuesday’s meeting. “It just kind of happened to us, but to find another one like this would’ve been very challenging.”
Moving out of downtown Clearwater will allow the county to sell its property there, including more than a dozen buildings, many built in the 1960s and 70s, that are energy-inefficient and outdated to the point of constituting health and safety issues, County Administrator Barry Burton said. Updating the buildings would be costly, he said, and the county will save money on maintenance and energy in the long run by building a new headquarters.
CBRE, the real estate consultant hired by the county, has estimated that it can sell its downtown property for about $60 to $80 million. That will help offset the cost of moving, as will the fact that those properties will return to the tax rolls. Pinellas officials have also said they see the move as an opportunity for redevelopment in downtown Clearwater.
Burton said the county has the money available for the land purchase and will likely need to use bonds to finance the construction of its new buildings. CBRE has estimated the overall cost to be between $263 million and $334 million. An early timeline by CBRE suggested construction throughout 2025 and 2026, with the new headquarters opening in early 2027.
The lone no-vote came from Commissioner Brian Scott, who said he wanted to spend more time looking at another site, one in the Bardmoor area. CBRE had explored that site but found that, while it would have been cheaper up front, the county would have risked high costs to renovate a property that doesn’t mesh with what it’s looking for. Scott also asked last week for a delay while he digested the details of the Icot Boulevard site.
But with the property’s seller eager to close by the end of the year, other commissioners said it wasn’t worth waiting and risking the loss of a site that checks all the boxes.
“It’s time to move forward,” Commissioner Janet Long said. “I have no desire to continue waiting and passing the buck to somebody else, because we all know that this has to be done.”