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Millions in land sales could bankroll ‘City Center’ in East Tampa

Mayor Jane Castor wants to relocate 500 city jobs in a $100 million project that includes a new police headquarters to East Tampa.
The Tampa Police department headquarters on 411 N. Franklin St. Under a plan unveiled to council members Thursday, the building and other city property would be sold, and a new headquarters building would be built in east Tampa.
The Tampa Police department headquarters on 411 N. Franklin St. Under a plan unveiled to council members Thursday, the building and other city property would be sold, and a new headquarters building would be built in east Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Mar. 5
Updated Mar. 5

TAMPA — Land that now houses an abandoned warehouse could be the home to an ambitious project that would move the new police headquarters and an array of city services to East Tampa, opening up prime parcels of downtown and West Tampa real estate that could fetch millions.

The $100 million plan, unveiled to council members for the first time Thursday, envisions energy-efficient buildings that would house 500 city employees and revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

The proposal involves selling the current police headquarters at 411 N. Franklin St. downtown and a 17-acre city-owned lot housing Solid Waste, Fleet Management and other services on 4010 W. Spruce St. Those sales could generate tens of millions, said city chief financial officer Dennis Rogero.

“This touches almost every single aspect of our strategic plan,” said John Bennett, chief of staff for Mayor Jane Castor.

Partially because leases on some of the buildings currently housing city staff are coming due in the next few years, the city needs to move fast, said Bennett. The first phase of the project is slated to be ready by March 2023, according to city officials.

That pace led to the desire for the administration to move quickly, Bennett said.

“We like to move nimble and agile,” Bennett said, responding to questions from council members about why they were only briefed on the massive project in the past week.

Council members, though, especially Bill Carlson, John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes, said there hadn’t been enough time to digest the proposal, especially one so far-reaching.

Their concerns, in a motion made by Dingfelder, led the effort to postpone a vote on the initial outlay of $6.2 million until their next meeting on March 18.

The $6.2 million would cover design and demolition costs for the property at 2515 E. Hanna, a 13-acre parcel currently occupied by an empty warehouse.

The city announced a plan to relocated 500 city jobs to East Tampa as part of a $100 million proposal to refashion the city's physical profile.
The city announced a plan to relocated 500 city jobs to East Tampa as part of a $100 million proposal to refashion the city's physical profile. [ City of Tampa ]

The first phase of the project would involve building a three-story building to house an array of city services. Nearby, a new police headquarters would be built. The property is bisected by the CSX rail line, which could be used for light rail in the future, city officials said.

The city would also save up to $35 million in maintenance costs, especially at the downtown police headquarters, which is more than 60 years old. An employee health clinic at the site would also save the city at least $15,000 a month in rent that is being paid at the two current locations, officials said.

Bonds would likely be used to pay for some of the costs, said Rogero, although the city would pursue grants, especially since the city’s emergency management operations would be housed there. And the land sales of Big Blue and the Spruce property could also pay for a chunk, he said.

“We think it embodies the goals the mayor has promised to develop neighborhoods,” said Sal Ruggiero, the city’s deputy administrator of infrastructure services.

Council members praised the project’s potential.

“This is a fantastic plan,” said Chairman Guido Maniscalco, who said the downtown and West Tampa land sales could fetch big bucks. “I like the fact that we have so much hot real estate.”

But Gudes, who represents East Tampa, said he was concerned about more high-end development pushing out residents in West Tampa. And he said the administration has a tendency to spring projects on the public “at the 9th hour.”

That concern was echoed by Carlson, who said he only learned of the mayor’s plan on Wednesday.

“I feel blindsided by it. I’m sure the public feels blindsided by bit,” he said.

In the end, council members voted unanimously to delay a vote on the initial development costs for two weeks to give Castor’s administration a chance to engage the public and answer some of their questions.

Dingfelder said it would be in the mayor’s interest to have unanimous support for her transformation of the city government’s physical assets rather than a “hesitant vote.”

The city needs to move fast, Bennett said, but he conceded that the administration wanted council members’ unqualified support.

“If that is what it takes to deal with this in a collaborative way, then we yield to the council’s request,” Bennett said.