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St. Petersburg sells final undesignated Commerce Park parcel

The sale means the Commerce Park saga, ongoing for more 13 years, is over. At least for now.
Commerce Park promised jobs that never materialized. On Thursday, St. Petersburg City Council agreed to sell a portion of the land, closing the book on the Commerce Park saga.
Commerce Park promised jobs that never materialized. On Thursday, St. Petersburg City Council agreed to sell a portion of the land, closing the book on the Commerce Park saga. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Dec. 4, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — At least for now, the Commerce Park saga is over.

St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday agreed to sell a portion of the 13-acre lot for a market value of $1.025 million to St. Petersburg Commerce Park LLC, which for years has had the right to build atop the land but thus far has not. From the city’s perspective, the deal closes the book on a piece of land that had great promise of creating jobs but never delivered.

“I believe that this is a good deal for our city,” said Council Chair Ed Montanari. “It solves a lot of problems.”

The parcel was assembled starting in 2007 under Mayor Rick Baker’s administration. The idea was the city would buy up land along 22nd Street S just north of Interstate 275 and create a manufacturing and industrial park. The goal was to create jobs.

Then the Great Recession took hold, and the lot sat stagnant during the tenure of Mayor Bill Foster. Mayor Rick Kriseman was able to negotiate a development contract with St. Petersburg Commerce Park LLC, which was to build a manufacturing facility for marine supply company EMP Industries, and motorcycle dealer Euro Cycles of Tampa Bay. Still, the site languished for years, and the jobs never materialized. Euro Cycles agreed to relinquish control of its parcel back to the city, and Kriseman pivoted his vision altogether.

Related: Feds to St. Petersburg: Give back our $2.2 million

Where Euro Cycles had intended to build, the city now hopes to develop affordable townhomes and commercial space. The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, currently in a small facility a few blocks away, is hoping to build a grand new building on the site. But land remained in the back of the property, furthest from 22nd Street, that had an uncertain future.

Technically, that land was still under the control of St. Petersburg Commerce Park LLC, whose chief executive, Tom Callahan, is the president of EMP. The city was preparing to file eviction paperwork, said City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle. Facing a lengthy legal process, Callahan and the city agreed to the sale.

The city still hopes the company will build a manufacturing facility and locate jobs there. Officials even laced the deal with job incentives — $25,000 back to the LLC for every newly created job that goes to a resident of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area so long as the resident holds the job for a year. There is a cap of 15 jobs, or $375,000 in incentives. The incentives are only available for jobs created within the first 30 months after the sale.

DeLisle described the deal as being a win for the city, whether the jobs are created or not. Revenue from the sale will be reinvested on the 22nd Street corridor, which itself is undergoing a revitalization, called Deuces Rising.

“If they don’t create the jobs, then they don’t get any incentives,” DeLisle said. “But we still get the money for the sale.”

Callahan did not respond to two calls to EMP Industries seeking comment on the sale.

Further, since the parcel is in the back of the property, DeLisle said there was concern they might not find another buyer anytime soon. That would have meant the property would continue to sit idle, generating no jobs or revenue.

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There was little discussion among council members on Thursday before they voted to approve the sale. Deborah Figgs-Sanders raised concerns about manufacturing being so close to the affordable housing the city hopes to build. She was the lone no vote.