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Project to replace former St. Petersburg Police station delayed by pandemic

The developer of the Edge District project cited the environment of economic uncertainty, including what the future of office space will look like.

The massive project to replace the former St. Petersburg Police headquarters in the Edge district has been delayed by the pandemic, pushing back the demolition that was scheduled for this summer to early next year at the soonest.

Jay Miller, the president of St. Petersburg-based J Square Development, said the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus was to blame. His company is one of the partners in Edge Central Development Partners, which was approved to buy the land from the city for $6.4 million last year.

“We still intend to move forward with the project but it’s a different time to be moving forward with projects when there’s so much emphasis on the coronavirus,” Miller said. He added that lenders being hyper-cautious during this period also contributed to the delay.

Related: City picks plan for old police station in St. Pete’s Edge District

The development plan includes 60 condos, 30 apartments, ground-floor restaurants and retail, as well as 100,000 square feet of office space.

The pandemic-related shutdowns have not only pummeled the restaurant and retail industries, they’ve also prompted speculation about whether companies will emerge from the lockdowns with dimmer views of the need for office space after months of remote work.

As to whether there will need to be changes to the design itself, it’s too early to tell, Miller said. In addition to the questions about reduced office space, there have been theories floated that the pandemic will cause companies to acquire larger offices to allow for greater social distancing, for example.

But before the development on the 1300 block of Central Avenue can get started again, Miller said he’ll be looking for signs of “economic strengthening.”

“Whether we’re all just getting used to living with COVID or there’s a cure so people are more comfortable and confident, I think that’s what’s going to be required for users to buy and lease space and for lenders to finance the project,” he said.

Ben Kirby, a spokesman for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kiseman, said that the city is still planning to present the development agreement, which dictates the responsibilities of the developer and the city, to the city council in August. He added that the city granted a three month delay because of the pandemic.

Lee Arnold, executive chairman of Colliers International Florida, a real estate professional services company, said anytime there’s economic uncertainty, there will be projects that have their construction timelines pushed back.

“I remember in ’09 a lot of projects were delayed, but a lot came back online,” he said, speaking generally about the current economic climate.

But Arnold added that there are a lot of reasons for optimism, especially when it comes to industrial real estate like warehouses as well as apartments. He’s observed that office leases are still being renewed, albeit with negotiations for new hand-washing stations and better air quality.

“It’s a mixed bag at this stage of the game,” Arnold said.

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