Police station project is a ‘home run,’ EDGE business leader says

The office, housing and retail project planned for the site of the former St. Petersburg Police headquarters has all the factors the EDGE District needs for longterm success, the leader of the district’s business association told the St. Petersburg City Council.

A parking garage that will be part of the project is especially important, said Barbara Voglewede, executive director of the EDGE Business District Association, just before the City Council approved a lease and development agreement with EDGE Central Development Partners for the property at 1300 1st Ave. N.

While Thursday’s vote to approve the deal was unanimous, at least one City Council member is questioning the need for more office space in light of workforce changes brought out by the Covid-19 pandemic.

EDGE Central plans a 100,000-square-foot Class A office building, 22,000 square feet of retail space, at least 56 residential condos, 30 workforce rental apartments and a 600-space parking garage. The development will be organized around a new civic plaza, which will include a tribute monument to The Courageous 12, the 12 Black St. Petersburg police officers who sued the city to gain the full rights of their white counterparts.

Voglewede said the developers worked closely with the EDGE Business District Association, which wanted to be sure the redevelopment was aligned with its own plans, met current and future needs of the community, and that it would fit the character and fabric of the district.

“To us, the EDGE Central development hits a home run on all three counts,” Voglewede said. “One key reason is the inclusion of the parking garage that houses 400 public spaces, which will be a lifesaver. Parking inventory has been rapidly disappearing in our district and it’s been a race to find interim solutions while working on the end goal of a public parking garage. At this moment, there are  proposed developments that will take our last two public parking lots offline in the next year, so it’s even more imperative that we see EDGE Central’s public parking spaces come online.”

The office component of the project is important in a city that sorely needs Class A space to attract and retain businesses, said City Council members Darden Rice and Gina Driscoll.

“If this is going to be more than just a place to go out to eat or rent an apartment, we’ve got to do projects like this that make it a more well-rounded district,” said Driscoll, Council vice chairman. Her council district includes the EDGE District.

But City Council member Brandi Gabbard, who advocated for more workforce housing in the project, challenged the need for 100,000 square feet of office space in a post-Covid world. She questioned whether the office space would be utilized in the same way as previously envisioned, and asked that the council schedule a future discussion on the city’s strategy on office buildings.

“We’ve been saying we want office space and we’ve made it a priority for all our developments. But I feel like we’ve never really narrowed down how much office space we feel we can truly fill, and I feel that number has to be different today than it was in 2019,” Gabbard said. “At some point in time we need to have that conversation, because if we are going to continue to focus so much new development on office space when our housing needs are so great, then we as a body need to know what that target is, how we’re going to get there and at what point we’re going to shift and make a real commitment to the housing we know we need.”

Council Chairman Ed Montanari said he would ask Alan DeLisle, the city’s development director, to provide that update to the council at a future date.

EDGE Central will pay $6.4 million to buy the old police station property, with up to a $1 million discount to cover demolition costs. The city will buy 400 spaces for public use for $8 million, and will provide a $2 million loan to cover the gap between what it costs to build the workforce apartments and the rent that will be collected on them. Site preparation and demolition will begin in 2021, with project completion expected in 2023.

EDGE Central also has been working on a new, more contemporary design for the project than its original renderings showed, and it expects to release new images in 30 to 60 days, said Jay Miller, a principal in EDGE Central and president of J Square Developers.

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