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Municipal Services Center’s maintenance bill tops $54 million

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg officials are considering selling the Municipal Services Center at One 4th St. N. and building a new campus. Photo: Google.

A long-awaited Municipal Services Center maintenance study’s results has some St. Petersburg City Council members wondering if they are better off hanging a for-sale sign on the historic building.

City officials discussed the evaluation’s recommendations – and associated costs – for the first time Thursday. Administrators received the 443-page report from Harvard Jolly in October 2023 yet did not share the findings until Councilmember Gina Driscoll asked for an update in January.

The study, obtained by the Catalyst through a public records request, states it will take $54.54 million to maintain the building for 15 years. That excludes soft costs associated with engineering and permitting processes.

“I think, ultimately, we are thinking about building something new and selling this property because of its location,” Driscoll said. “This creates an incredible opportunity for economic development and the next great project …”

The original Municipal Services Center (MSC) building was built between 1927 and 1929 at One 4th Street N. A similarly-sized addition opened in the 1950s.

The city purchased the site in 1985 and adapted it to house municipal operations. Officials last renovated the 10-story, 140,859-square-foot facility in 1995.

The MSC now houses 540 city staff across 14 departments. The evaluation states immediate needs total $387,000.

The maintenance bill soars to $24.69 million over five years. Driscoll called those amounts “jaw-dropping.”

She noted costs would increase with inflation. Driscoll also reminded her colleagues that the property’s valuation was $15 million in 2021. “That sounds like a building whose time has come,” she added.

While Harvard Jolly’s immediate needs include sealing the roof and interior openings, the study does not address the potential effects of pervasive water intrusion. City Architect Raul Quintana said officials have never checked for mold.

“We all have this report, and we all have a responsibility,” said Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz. “I want to make sure that somebody’s going to tell me we have done what we’re supposed to do on this – because it does scare me.”

Aaron Fisch, director of real estate and property management, said his crew walks the building daily and has not seen signs of mold. He also admitted that was not a prerequisite for testing.

The building’s basement shows extensive water damage. Screengrab, city documents.

Carcinogenic asbestos fills the MSC’s interior paneling, like most buildings its age. That presents another construction challenge, and potential expense.

Harvard Jolly recommended replacing the elevators, which are prone to malfunction. The MSC also needs a roof replacement, and Quintana said administrators are already planning to overhaul its heating and cooling system.

He said the 257-space public parking garage is in “fair” condition despite some cracking in stucco walls. Driscoll noted that many issues – Harvard Jolly listed 82 in its five-year plan – relate to code compliance.

“I think the building is well-maintained,” Quintana said. “It’s not ideal in some ways … Getting us to the point where we can begin planning and designing a new building is the goal.”

City Administrator Rob Gerdes estimated the cost of a new municipal headquarters at $75 million, or $6 million annually over 30 years. He said officials could disregard some of the evaluation’s recommendations if they plan on moving into a new facility.

Former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration evaluated plans for a new MSC in 2019 after receiving an unsolicited offer from a New York-based development group. He then launched an open bidding process and selected a proposal from Third Lake Partners.

Third Lake sought to buy the MSC for $12.5 million and build a new facility across from City Hall. The firm would have either renovated the current building into office space or demolished it as part of a redevelopment project.

The previously proposed new facility, encompassing 130,000 square feet, would have cost roughly $50 million in 2022. “I don’t think that’s big enough,” Gerdes said. “That’s one of the reasons why I recommended against the deal to the mayor (Ken Welch).”

The building as it looked in the 1920s and early 1930s. Screengrab, city documents.

Fisch said administrators have about $6.5 million available for capital improvement projects in 2024. Gerdes credited the council’s efforts to transfer $17 million into that fund over the past two years.

He said a complete rehabilitation could allow the city to stay in the current location indefinitely. Gerdes said city officials have also discussed building a campus adjacent to the new District Court of Appeals project at 535 Mirror Lake Drive.

“I want our employees who work in the MSC building to know that we’re on it,” Driscoll said. “That you all are doing the maintenance that can be done, and we’re looking for a future plan.”

The council agreed to continue discussing the MSC’s future at an upcoming Economic Development and Workforce Development Committee meeting. Administrators will check for mold immediately.

Gerdes said he has “never met a man that cares more about employees than Mayor Welch. Absolutely, we want our employees to be safe and in the best circumstances.”

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    March 4, 2024at8:06 am

    St. Petersburg has a strong mayor form of government. The current collection of problems is an outgrowth of that. The citizens keep electing politicians. What we need to do is elect a mayor who is a competent business professional with a proven record of successfully running major projects.

    Or this mayor needs to hire a show the leadership skill of hiring a highly competent major projects manager NOW and let him/her lead the way.

    Right now, we have the Marina Project, Rays Stadium and the MSC. None are ‘shovel-ready’. It is hard to imagine how the City of St. Petersburg, can efficiently move forward these three projects simultaneously, let alone coordinate construction in the next 3 years.

    We need intelligent and logical progress forward.

  2. Avatar

    Alfred Wendler

    March 3, 2024at6:06 pm

    So after two years at the helm Mr Do Nothing Mayor has reached the conclusion I reached 5 years ago? And worked with Kriseman and DeLisle to come up with a plan only to have it killed by the new mayor who then reached the exact same conclusion we reached?

    Let me guess the next step. Identifying a site for the new MSC. Perhaps a vacant parking lot adjacent to City Hall?

  3. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    March 3, 2024at8:08 am

    Why did it require a public records request by the Catalyst to see this report? Could it have been posted on the city web site? Then we could all be informed?

  4. Avatar

    Charlie Guy

    March 2, 2024at8:56 am

    Having known Tampa Mayor Jane Caster in my role as an Alternative Vice Chairman, Tampa Enterprise Community-Based Partnership, an inner-city community-based group that developed and was awarded a Federal Enterprise Zone designation and $2,900,000, I recently personally asked her why she chose to move their Municipal Service Center to East Tampa.

    Her Reply: With all the attention being paid to downtown Tampa and its huge Water Street Tampa
    Developmental efforts, she felt that this move of their new facility to East Tampa may be the last major step to save that neighborhood.

    Charlie Guy, Founder, Sunshine Greenway

  5. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    March 2, 2024at7:07 am

    Hal, you are so right. Ridiculous excuse. The Kriseman project was exactly right! Welch and the Council botched another one and are left with another mess like killing the Moffitt deal. And, oh, after botching the Trop, I’m sure they will have lots of money left over to make the MSC project right!!?? The development mistakes are endless. Dig deep St Pete and look for the courageous leaders who have the guts to tell the truth. St Pete deserves better.

  6. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    March 1, 2024at5:39 pm

    Another good concept botched. If the new building to be built by the buyers of the MSC was too small, make it bigger; don’t scotch the plan and wait 3 years to realize it was a sensible way to go.

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