Within the next year, St. Petersburg’s police force is expected to be operating from a new headquarters building at 1st Avenue and 13th Street North in the city.
And while the $83 million project is expected to improve the operations of the department, it will likely also have a transformative effect on the surrounding area as well, city officials and commercial real estate agents say.
“We think this will be an important civic building, and not just for what will be housed inside,” says Raul Quintana, the city’s architect. “We believe this will help transform that entire part of downtown.”
The 165,000-square-foot headquarters, being constructed on six acres, will be completed in two phases, beginning in December with an annex building. A larger, three-story structure is scheduled for completion in February, together with a four-level, 600-space parking garage, Quintana says.
Numerous studies by the Urban Land Institute and others highlight the importance of municipal and other government buildings as potential anchors and sparks for private-sector development.
In the case of St. Petersburg, the new police headquarters comes as developers have already begun upgrading the city’s Edge District with new apartment projects, restaurants, retail and other amenities, and development is beginning to gel in the Grand Central District adjacent to it.
The city also intends to take bids, sometime in 2019, for the two-acre site where the old police headquarters had operated from dating back to the 1930s.
When that occurs, the city could receive another boost of infill development with a new hotel or other mixed-use project.
“Once the new headquarters is completed, and the old site comes online, there will really be an opportunity to have an impact,” says Wendy Giffin, a director at commercial real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield who specializes in St Petersburg.
“It could be a very big anchor for that whole section of town — another game changer for that area. Having the police headquarters where it will be also will free up a portion of Central Avenue — St. Petersburg’s Main Street — for new projects.”
Already, Giffin notes that more than 2,500 new apartment units are planned for the Edge and Grand Central districts, fueled in part by the idea that the new police headquarters would become a reality.
But that reality was roughly two decades in the making.
“We think this will be an important civic building, and not just for what will be housed inside. We believe this will help transform that entire part of downtown.” — Raul Quintana, St. Petersburg city architect.
City officials batted around the idea of a new police headquarters for years, with undulating urgency. A decade ago, the project received a proverbial green light, only to be stymied by the economic recession and a lack of funding.
Plans stalled, too, after city officials contemplated phasing the project or scaling it back significantly.
After Rick Kriseman was elected St. Petersburg’s mayor in late 2013, the new headquarters gained additional momentum thanks to a surging economy, Pinellas County’s decision to provide $20 million for it and mounting concerns about the existing police building.
The current headquarters’ site dates to the 1930s, with the older of two remaining buildings there completed six decades ago.
In addition to age, the four-story structure had problems with inadequate ventilation. Carcinogenic materials like asbestos were used in building the headquarters, along with lead. At least half of the building lacked hot water.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the building’s age, overcrowding became an issue. The department’s primary property and evidence division operated from a converted basement in the building.
Those woes were exacerbated last year, too, when the city demolished a 20,000-square-foot building that had been the original building of the three, forcing the department to further consolidate.
Parking has been problematic, as well, because the department didn’t have a secure parking garage adjacent to its headquarters. Many officers took to parking on the street.
“It’s been an extremely difficult building to work in,” Quintana says. “There have a been, understandably, a huge number of concerns from the department, and the need for a new facility was identified long ago.
“What’s there now simply was not designed to house a modern police agency.”
By the time Ajax Building Corp. began work on the new headquarters, in May 2017 from a Harvard Jolly Architecture design, it had become apparent that the existing facility was functionally obsolete.
The new headquarters, Quintana says, is being designed in stark contrast to be relevant for perhaps decades to come.
In addition to the department’s needs, the three-story structure will contain an emergency operations center, a data collection center, a community room for events and a public plaza on one corner.
The building will be “certified green,” with a system of solar panels housed on the roof and a central energy plant within. It’s being designed to sustain 195 mile per hour winds, too.
“The idea of resiliency was a big part of this, along with meeting the needs of a modern-day police department,” Quintana says. “And in terms of the architecture, we knew this building was serve as a gateway, of sorts, between downtown and the western edge of the city, so architecturally it needed to make a statement.
“I expect, too, that the new headquarters will fit in with many of the other private developments that are ongoing or planned,” he adds. “Hopefully the new headquarters will be an anchor for the entire area.”
Giffin, too, has high expectations for the headquarters and its place in the larger tapestry of the community.
“I think with this you’ll see continued maturity of the Edge District,” she says. “And the new headquarters will continue the horizontal link that promotes growth to the west.”
Additionally, the city will have another — and even more significant — opportunity to reshape the western portion of the city if the Tampa Bay Rays relocate from Tropicana Field to a site in Tampa’s Ybor City.
If that occurs, as the team has signaled, St. Petersburg will have 83 acres in the Edge District to redevelop — far beyond the new apartments and eateries that have sprung up to date.
“The Edge District has already been transformed, to a degree, with new businesses opening and new developments,” Quintana says. “And it could get another big shot in the arm that would further positively impact the entire area.”