St. Petersburg is about to get 373,000 square feet of new office space.
Projects in development, ranging from a new headquarters for a publicly traded company to a revamp of the old police headquarters, will provide the office space the city needs to attract new businesses and retain growing ones.
With downtown office vacancy rates at record lows, “that’s been a huge priority of ours and yours,” Alan DeLisle, economic development director, told city council members at the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee Nov. 7.
New office projects were part of an hour-long discussion between council members and DeLisle at the meeting. Much of the talk focused on Commerce Park, an economically challenged area of south St. Petersburg where the city is working to bring new business, housing and retail. They also talked about Opportunity Zones, which were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to lift up economically distressed communities and spur real estate investment. Those zones have since come under criticism as benefitting wealthy investors and accelerating gentrification, pushing long-time residents out of neighborhoods.
Here are the office projects DeLisle highlighted.
• United Insurance Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: UIHC), or UPC Insurance, headquarters: 150,000 square feet
• Old police headquarters redevelopment: 100,000 square feet
• Commerce Park: 60,000 square feet
• DeNunzio Group mixed-use development: 40,000 square feet
• Red Apple Real Estate mixed-use development: 23,000 square feet
Council members will weigh in on part of the DeNunzio project this week. The company plans a 25-story mixed-use building on what’s now a parking lot at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue North and 5th Street, one block south of St. Petersburg City Hall.
Council members will be asked Thursday to approve a resolution, authorizing the city to buy the parking facility associated with the DeNunzio project in order to provide more public parking.
The facility will have at least 240 parking spaces on four levels. The deal calls for the city to spend no more than $28,700 per parking space.
Those new spaces will help the city meet the need identified by a parking demand study in 2016, and will help replace parking lost due to the Red Apple development in the 400 block of Central Avenue, a staff memo to the City Council said.
The proposed purchase agreement is subject to a parking operations and management agreement between DeNunzio and the city.The operations agreement calls for DeNunzio to pay the city a percentage of the annual gross revenue generated from the operations of the public parking facility. Office tenants in the new DeNunzio building would be able to use some of the parking spaces. On Sundays, congregants at Christ United Methodist Church, the current owner of the land, would be able to use 120 parking spaces for free.
The city is appropriating a total of $8.6 million for the project, with about half the money coming from the Downtown Parking Capital Improvement Fund.
The city is finalizing a document with specific information on Opportunity Zones in the city, including how best to take advantage of them, DeLisle said.
City Council member Amy Foster said she was glad to hear DeLisle talk about Opportunity Zones, but she added a warning.
“I do believe there’s some opportunity there, but I also believe if it’s not done correctly it’s going to do the same things as building interstates through our community did in the past,” Foster said, adding she would like a deeper dive on how to do development without displacement.
“Our red flags are up with that as well,” DeLisle said. “It could be a very good thing and it could move development forward in areas that are difficult to get financing for, but there has to be community buy-in and support for the project.”
Home ownership is the answer to concerns about gentrification, Council member Steve Kornell said.
“Home ownership is a big part of it. You aren’t forcing me out if I own it and I’m fully informed about what I can do with it. You might build all around me but you’re not kicking me out,” he said.