A $70 million project creating office, housing and retail space at the site of the old St. Petersburg Police headquarters could help spur growth beyond the EDGE District.
Development in areas near the downtown core could push additional expansion citywide, Mayor Rick Kriseman told the St. Pete Catalyst.
On Tuesday, Kriseman said he had selected EDGE Central Development Partners to redevelop the old police headquarters site at 1300 1st Ave. N., replaced earlier this year by a new headquarters across the street on 1st Avenue.
The EDGE Central project, along with plans announced earlier this month by PTM Partners for a mixed-use retail, hotel and co-working project called The Edge Collective, at 1246 Central Ave., will have a ripple impact for development, Kriseman said.
“As Central Avenue continues to develop like it is, limiting people’s opportunities to be on Central, I think they’re going to start looking at some of the ancillary roads, the streets that feed Central —16th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 22nd Street. I think you will start seeing development heading north and south there more,” he said.
It’s been interesting to watch how the city has developed over the past few years, he said.
“We went from downtown ending at 6th or 7th Streets and then you had Grand Central, which took off, and the EDGE district was that gap in between and there wasn’t a lot happening. I think between what was happening downtown and what was happening in Grand Central, it moved east and west together,” Kriseman said. “My hope is that it goes beyond Grand Central and we start getting past 34th Street and seeing that area between 34th and 66th Streets start redeveloping.”
That’s starting to happen in the far western portion of the city, between 66th Street and Sunset Drive, the street that borders Boca Ciega Bay.
“That area is really coming back to life and the city is getting ready to do some investment in streetscaping in that area too,” Kriseman said. “But we would like to see that for the 49th Street corridor and that whole area as well.”
The city is working on a draft master plan for Union Central, the 375-acre district that runs along 34th Street from 22nd Avenue North to 3rd Avenue South. That plan is scheduled to be presented to the City Council on Dec. 12.
EDGE Central plan checked the boxes
EDGE Central plans to build 100,000 square feet of office space, retail and restaurant space, 60 market-rate condos, 30 workforce housing apartments, and a 600-car parking garage with 400 public parking spaces.
All of the seven plans submitted in response to a request for proposals for the site came from qualified developers, which made the decision to choose EDGE Central difficult, Kriseman said.
“What hit it for us was the fact that it allowed us to check off several of the boxes we were looking for and we needed to have happen in this development, from a significant Class A office space with 100,000 square feet to the 400 public parking spaces to getting housing that gives us workforce housing and also condos, not rentals,” Kriseman said. “Having the 22,000 square feet of commercial and retail also gives more opportunities for businesses that want to be on Central, but can’t find a place to locate.”
The new office space is vital, as Class A office vacancies rates downtown were 7.1 percent at the end of the third quarter of 2019, and are expected to drop below 5 percent by the end of the year.
“We’ve seen growth in the city but we haven’t seen growth in the office sector and having space. As our EDC and our chamber and my economic development team go out and try to retain and grow and attract new business, it’s been challenging because we haven’t had places to put them if they are interested,” Kriseman said. “Having 100,000 square feet of office is a significant amount of office to come into an area, and really gives us some great opportunity to be out marketing, to say we will have a place for you if you want to come. We’ve been challenged in being able to say that.”
Expanding and relocating businesses lead to more jobs, although it’s too early to project how many jobs the EDGE Central project might bring.
“Ironically, I spoke to somebody today who indicated they are looking for 65,000 square feet and it would bring about 150 jobs. So we’re already reaching out to the developer to talk to them about this potential opportunity, and see if we can connect them,” Kriseman said.
Financing played a role
EDGE Central’s principals are veteran real estate entrepreneurs who collectively have more than 75 years of experience developing complex commercial, residential and mixed-use projects, including more than 25 affordable housing developments with more than 2,000 units. They already have committed investor financing as well as banking relationships with several local, regional and national construction lenders.
The project’s ability to be financed also played a role in Kriseman’s decision.
“That’s been a concern we’ve had that’s unfortunately risen its head more frequently than we would like. We have projects that look like they are going to be good but the money isn’t real behind the project and as a result either the project doesn’t happen or we have to rule it out because we’re not confident it will happen,” Kriseman said. “In this case, we had a good level of confidence they are going to be able to get the financing needed to make the project a reality.”
The timing on the EDGE Central project depends in part on completing renovations at City Hall. City staff is working out of the old police station while City Hall gets a new roof and an upgraded HVAC system, among other things.
“Our thought process was if we could get somebody selected and at least get them through the early stages of development, the due diligence period and getting their plans put together and submitted and permitted, the hope is that when we are ready to move out – whenever that is this next year – that they’ll be in a position where they can start the demo of the site and get that process going. Then it’s just a matter of how long will it take them to get the project constructed,” Kriseman said.
He noted it only took seven months to complete the exterior portion of a new residence hall at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, which had a topping off ceremony last week. The EDGE Central project is a different type of project, Kriseman said, because the building cannot be precast in the same manner.
“But I would love to say that by the time I leave office it’s either done or close to being done,” said Kriseman, who faces term limits and will leave office in early 2022.