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Webb’s City legacy pushes deadline on new office building

Margie Manning

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St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council has given United Insurance Holdings Corp. an additional six months to complete due diligence on the city-owned land that it plans to buy for a new corporate headquarters, after environmental contamination was discovered on the site.

The council’s decision was among several key votes at the Sept. 19 meeting. The council also adopted a budget and new stormwater rates for fiscal year 2020, jumped into the debate over University of South Florida consolidation and began a process to commemorate the contributions of the Courageous 12, a group of black police officers who pushed for parity in the city’s police department.

Here’s a closer look at each of those issues.

UPC headquarters

United Insurance Holdings (Nasdaq: UIHC), which does business as UPC Insurance, plans to build the first office building in downtown St. Petersburg in nearly a decade. The city council agreed in May to sell a vacant 4.6 acre city-owned parcel at 800 1st Ave. S. to UPC, with an Oct. 1 deadline for wrapping up due diligence.

The city-owned land where UPC plans its new headquarters is currently used for parking.

A recently completed environmental study found contamination, Alfred Wendler, the city’s director of real estate and property management, told the city council. The contamination is believed to be from a pesticide used for termites and is directly under the site of the old Webb’s City drugstore at 2nd Avenue South and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

“We are asking the council for a six-month extension on the due diligence period so that city staff and UPC and the state can digest the level of contamination that was discovered,” and come up with a remediation plan, Wendler said. “That will take a couple of months and once we have an idea of what we need to do to address it and how long it’s going to take to do that, we’ll come back before council with an amendment to the agreement to address what we come up with.”

The council agreed to the delay. Separately, the council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved UPC’s $91.5 million design for its new headquarters, a 17-story, 180-room hotel and a three-story parking garage.

City budget

Council members approved a $640.8 million operating budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, with $154.1 million in capital improvements. See budget details here.

Ed Montanari

Most of the fireworks during a public hearing centered on utility rates, including a tiered structure for stormwater rates, based the amount of impervious surface area at a home. Impervious surface includes roofing and driveways, or areas that don’t allow water to seep into the ground, unlike lawns and gardens that can absorb stormwater. Homes with more impervious surface area will face higher stormwater rates.

Several critics said the new rates would drive up the cost of living in St. Pete, but city officials said the new system is more equitable than the flat $11 a month charge that’s been in effect for all homes.

“I think the tiered stormwater system is matter of basic fairness,” said City Council Vice Chairman Ed Montanari. He said he’s facing an increase in his own stormwater rates, but “the fact is that 66 percent of customers are going to see a decrease is a good thing.”

USF consolidation

City council members unanimously approved a resolution supporting the retention of branch campus identity and autonomy in academic and financial decisions by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Council member Amy Foster offered the resolution, in response to a Sept. 10 presentation at the USF board of trustees meeting by Steve Currall, USF president. Currall’s plan called for regional chancellors to implement already-approved budgets. Foster’s resolution said that’s contrary to the intent of state legislation which calls for USF St. Petersburg to have its own budgetary and hiring authority.

The City Council resolution mirrors concerns from several Pinellas state legislators, including Rep. Ben Diamond.

Courageous 12

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman

More than half-a-century after a dozen black St. Petersburg police officers successfully brought a federal lawsuit against the city so that they could have the same rights as white officers, the City Council is calling for recognition of the Courageous 12.

“This daring dozen sued the city to win the right to fully use their powers to arrest any offending citizen, not just black ones. It was this courage that encouraged other black officers over the nation to do the same and many were very successful,” said City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman. “The Courageous 12 were pioneers of this movement that started right here in St. Pete.”

Wheeler-Bowman authored a resolution that calls for the city administration to commission and fund artwork to recognize the Courageous 12. Council members approved the resolution unanimously, with Council Chair Charlie Gerdes suggesting the artwork be located at or near the St. Petersburg Police headquarters, “as a reminder to the police that there were 12 men who wanted to do things right,” Gerdes said.

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