A Tesla facility in an underdeveloped St. Petersburg neighborhood announced in April is coming into the final stretch as construction wraps up.
In a December interview, Rob Truett, a Delray Beach developer behind the highly-anticipated project, in Lealman, says the goal was to open by the end of 2022. That timing would be a nice capstone to a project that, so far, has defied what's become a common theme in construction amid the pandemic and post-pandemic environment of supply chain, cost and other obstacles.
Instead, Truett says there hasn't really been any major challenges.
“The reason why this project went so quickly was because we had a really good set of architecture and site plans when we went in for our permitting with Pinellas County,” he says. “We were very communicative with them in terms of the drawings, revisions and comments, and addressing those very quickly.”
The delivery and repair center is in a former Kane’s Furniture liquidation center — another reason the project was handled with such ease.
“Given that this was a furniture store, it was pretty much a wide open site,” Truett says, noting there was some demolition work. “It was just a matter of constructing the interior buildout and then also enhancing the exterior. We weren’t knocking down walls and finding unexpected things behind (them).”
The 4.2-acre property, 4601 34th Street N., was officially acquired through a $13 million deal from St. Petersburg Motors LLC, listed under Truett's company, Truett Realty Group LLC, in late April. St. Petersburg Motors took out a $17.69 million mortgage from Valley National Bank on the property, Pinellas County records show.
One challenge in the project was when Hurricane Ian passed through, but even that wasn't as bad as the impact the storm had on other parts of the region. The storm and its aftermath delayed the project one week. Aside from that delay, Truett says there were a number of subcontractors on the site everyday, facilitated by the general contractor Scherer Construction, which has an office in St. Pete.
Though Truett couldn’t confirm whether the $62.13 billion Texas-based electric vehicle manufacturer has started hiring, the facility was originally said to bring 50 high-skilled jobs as well as positions for service, support and maintenance teams.
With it being a sales, service and delivery center, the buildout included spaces for a parts department, customer lounge, roughly 170 interior parking spaces and a place to purchase a Tesla.
“Pretty much every part of this building has been touched,” Truett says. He says the project included work on electrical, internal lighting, plumbing, roofing, elevation and siding. Duke Energy provided a power upgrade, and the Florida Department of Transportation was brought into the loop.
“We made the site safer,” Truett says. “We closed off one access point. The more access points you have, the more unfortunate opportunities there are for accidents to occur.”
Previously, the site had two points of entry.
This is Truett’s fourth Tesla project he’s developed through his company, and the ninth he’s been involved in. He says there are a few additional Tesla projects in the works he’ll be a part of, declining to elaborate on specifics.
When thinking over how this project compared to the others he’s helped with, Truett says, “The process of working with the county in getting permits approved and applying for inspections — it was a very smooth process. Some other cities and municipalities, they’re not as accommodating.”
As for the construction side of things, he says this experience was atypical.
“Typically we run into a snag with permitting,” he says, adding redevelopment sites also normally present unique challenges. “Once we tear down some things we find some unexpected items.”
Pinellas County officials expect the project to be a boost for Lealman. The neighborhood was established as a community redevelopment area (CRA) in 2015. Requirements for a CRA include inadequate structures, infrastructure, roadways and parking, as well as a shortage of affordable housing. The Lealman CRA Redevelopment Plan established in 2016 was developed to address such conditions and improve quality of life over 30 years.
Before 2015, the Pinellas County Planning Department developed a “Finding of Necessity” study to determine whether Lealman met the requirements to become a CRA. The findings found the median household income for 2014 in Lealman was $30,358. The median income level in Pinellas County at that time, at $43,937, was 44.72% higher than Lealman.