St. Petersburg opens new welcoming, cutting-edge police headquarters

The exterior of the St. Petersburg Police Department after the grand opening on  Friday. The $78.5 million building is on a 6.3 acre site, across the street from the old police department. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
The exterior of the St. Petersburg Police Department after the grand opening on Friday. The $78.5 million building is on a 6.3 acre site, across the street from the old police department. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published March 22, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The 30-foot eagle's wing, crafted with 240 aluminum feathers and suspended above the glass-walled lobby of the city's new Police Headquarters, is a metaphoric shield for those who enter.

The monumental public art that gives homage to the department's badge and was created by St. Petersburg artist Mark Aeling is just one impressive feature of the $78.3 million facility that opened Friday.

There's the obvious, like the state-of-the art evidence room, with its commercial refrigerators and freezers, and the emergency communications center that can serve as a backup for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the county's 911 call center in a natural disaster or power failure.

The headquarters, which will also house the city's main data center and its emergency operations center, is built to survive a Category 5 hurricane.

"It is one of the most critical buildings in the city. So we have generator power and backup to the generator power," said lead architect and project manager Emmet Van Aken of Harvard Jolly Architecture.

Less evident features of the new building are walls with windows and doors that can be easily removed to meet changing needs. There are two wellness or lactation rooms.

The St. Petersburg force of 562 sworn officers and about 220 civilian employees will begin moving into the new quarters at 1301 First Ave. N next week. The move will take eight to 10 weeks.

Related coverage: St. Petersburg City Hall set to temporarily move this summer

They are moving into a significantly upgraded facility.

The old, four-story headquarters at 1300 First Ave. N — across from the new one — was cobbled together from two buildings.

"Aside from being outdated and frankly, a very challenging place to work, it was cramped. It really didn't meet our needs," Assistant Police Chief Mike Kovacsev said of the old 100,000-square-foot building. The new three-story building has 168,000 square feet of work space.

"The city continues to grow and the police department continues to grow and we were in a building that was last designed in the 1950s and 1970s. ... It's fitting that we are able to move over to a building that is on the cutting edge and is fitting for a 21st century police agency."

Most of the money for the project came from Penny for Pinellas. The four-story parking garage and the solar photovoltaic system on its roof were financed through a bond issue, Kovacsev said.

Mayor Rick Kriseman was ecstatic at Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremoney that began with a U.S. Special Operations Command parachute team landing on First Avenue N to deliver the American flag, followed by those for Florida and St. Petersburg.

"It was a little more than five years ago Deputy Mayor (Kanika) Tomalin and I went on a tour of the old police station," Kriseman told the crowd.

"What I saw as we toured the building was far worse than I had imagined."

He vowed to find the resources to build a 21st century police station with a great working environment, the mayor said.

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''This was not to be built to be a scary police station," Kriseman said. "We want the public to feel like this is their building too, so we want to invite the public to see the art in the lobby, say hello to our officers."

Kovacsev, the police representative on the project team, and other city staff worked with Harvard Jolly Architecture on the design.

"They wanted a modern police facility that incorporated more of the safety aspect of it, but also is a welcoming facility," Ward Friszolowski, president of Harvard Jolly, said.

Flexibility was key, Kovacsev said. "We wanted to make sure that we are able to meet the needs of the police department for years to come."

Sustainability was also important.

"We used a lot of different strategies, low water use, use of recyclable materials," Friszolowski said.

The 1,450 solar panels — the largest solar project at a city facility —will help to power the police station.

Kovacsev is proud of the high-density storage in the department's large, new 12,000-square-foot evidence room.

"A future generation from now, they won't have to worry where they have to store things," he said, adding that more shelving can be added. The commercial-grade refrigeration will store DNA evidence and, he said, "is a substantial upgrade" from the regular refrigerators in the old building. Evidence for major crimes such as homicides and sex crimes can now be stored in perpetuity, he said.

But it's the emergency communications center that handles 911 calls that Kovacsev calls "the crown jewel" of the building.

"It will be the top-rated communications center in the country when we open it up in the next couple of weeks," he said.

The glass-walled lobby might seem unusual. "There is a balance between having it feel warm and welcoming and also having it feel secure, and so we have the appropriate safety measures built in," Friszolowski said. "They didn't want it to look like a fortress."

Amid the celebration, Police Chief Anthony Holloway offered a somber reminder.

There's a new reflection area, with 15 trees to honor the department's 15 fallen officers, he said, "Those who came before us and gave the ultimate sacrifice."