City officials are purchasing over five acres from St. Petersburg College (SPC) to build approximately 105 affordable townhomes, with 30% reserved for students and faculty.
St. Petersburg City Council members unanimously approved allocating $4.2 million to acquire the former Gibbs Wellness Center site at their Nov. 2 meeting. They also agreed to pay up to $100,000 for related land surveys, inspections and closing costs.
In 2022, SPC’s board of trustees deemed the property as surplus and listed the 5.23-acre site at 7045 Burlington Ave. N for sale. Amy Foster, housing and community development administrator, said city officials submitted a competitive offer in December 2022.
“There were other bidders … interested in the property who offered more,” Foster said. “They (the board) shared our goal of creating affordable housing, and we were successful with our below-market bid …”
Aaron Fisch, real estate and property management director, said the property includes 20,000 square feet of improvements. The site is about 750 feet north of SPC’s Gibbs campus, 1,100 feet west of a commercial mixed-use development and abuts the Pinellas Trail.
City officials must rezone the property from single-family to multifamily. Fisch said the site could provide 105 homeownership opportunities for those making at or below 120% of the area median income (AMI).
SPC students and faculty would have the right of first refusal on 30%, or 35 of those units. Once the purchasing process is complete, the city will request proposals (RFP) to develop the property.
“I would hope that we’d get some really strong proposals on this property,” said City Administrator Rob Gerdes. “It’s significant in size. It’s right by the Pinellas Trail. I think it’ll work really well.”
While council members agreed with those sentiments, some expressed concern over the project’s affordability. Gerdes said city officials could not provide a purchase price for the townhomes until they select a developer.
Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders noted that 120% of the AMI – currently $73,180 for one person – excludes many residents. She would like more opportunities for those earning below 80%.
Foster said the goal for rental units is 60% to 80% of the AMI. However, she explained that residents struggle to maintain homeownership at those income levels.
Foster said soaring property insurance rates and “other strains on our economy” make it difficult for those earning below 120% of the AMI to sustain a home. She added that administrators would establish the city’s project subsidy once they complete the purchase, rezone the land and select a developer.
She said they would then bring the proposal to the city council for approval. “We’ve heard from you loud and clear that you have a preference for homeownership,” Foster said. “You have a preference for us taking control and not just allowing unsolicited offers to come our way.”
In April, two firms valued the property at $4.6 and $5.04 million, respectively. Fisch said administrators agreed to pay up to $100,000 in associated costs through negotiations.
The city will also give SPC officials 90 days to notify staff and students before publicly advertising the available units. Administrators should receive a title commitment within 45 days.
“The appraisals did come in at a higher price,” Gerdes said. “But the college lived up to the offer that we made them originally, the $4.2 (million). We didn’t discount the price based on St. Pete College employees or students being able to buy the townhomes, because they would buy them at the same price anyone else would …”