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New Office Tower proposed for St. Petersburg

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Utility aims to replace museum with tower

The company wants to build downtown St. Petersburg's first new office tower since 1990 - and on land where Florida International Museum now sits.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

Published June 5, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG - Progress Energy wants to build the first new downtown office tower in more than a decade on the site of the Florida International Museum.

According to its letter of intent, Progress Energy is seeking a developer to build a multistory building on the prime piece of city-owned property near the BayWalk entertainment complex. The city would be paid $1.5-million for the property, and the new building would have more than 200,000 square feet of office space and include room for retail and parking.

It would be the first office tower constructed in downtown St. Petersburg since the Bank of America tower in 1990.

Progress Energy would anchor the tower and sign a long-term lease. The project would take up a little less than half the block where the museum sits, between Central and First Avenue N., and 2nd and 3rd streets N. The remaining 50,000 square feet of the block would be available for another development.

"Progress Energy Florida has and will continue to play a role in the ongoing cultural and economic resurgence of downtown St. Petersburg," said Bill Habermeyer, president of Progress Energy Florida. "As this renaissance continues, we have tremendous confidence in the vitality of downtown St. Petersburg as both a business and residential center."

Progress Energy officials want the city to tear down the former Maas Brothers department store building that now houses the museum.

The deal is still in the preliminary stages. Mayor Rick Baker will ask the City Council for permission to run an advertisement giving 30-day notice of the transaction, which would allow others to bid for the property. The city also will conduct a study to ensure Progress Energy's price is in line with the current real estate market.

"If we are able to accept this," Baker said, "I think it will be a very, very positive sign for the future of downtown and the future of our city."

The City Council is expected to listen to a presentation about the proposal on June 10.

Progress Energy has about 600 employees and five locations in Pinellas County, including two floors of the Central Station building at 100 Central Ave.

All those employees would be consolidated at the new building, said Aaron Perlut, a company spokesman.

Company officials have searched for years for a new location to demonstrate the corporation's commitment to the area. In late 2003, they announced they were exercising an early exit option on the lease on the Central Station building, which was originally built by a developer hoping to lure a department store downtown.

Perlut said Progress Energy scouted dozens of locations for a new home and concluded the museum property was the best fit.

"We wanted to make an impression in downtown St. Petersburg," he said. "We can accomplish that with this site."

Progress Energy wants to close on the property by December, according to the letter of intent. Construction of the new building would begin three months after closing, with the completion date scheduled for 16 months after building permits are issued.

Accommodating that schedule would be challenging but not impossible, said Ron Barton, the city's director of economic development.

First, the museum would need to find a new home.

In January, the City Council approved a deal that would allow the financially struggling museum to move out of its oversized home and into an annex building it would share with St. Petersburg College.

But the move wasn't expected until 2007 because St. Petersburg College needs time to prepare the annex building for classrooms.

The museum has been in financial trouble for years and has received more than $6-million from the city. As part of the deal to move the museum out of the Maas Brothers building, the city also agreed to forgive $1-million in unpaid rent.

Barton said the city will help the museum explore options, including finding a temporary home.

"There could be a very low-cost scenario out there," he said. "It depends on the space and the location."

David Punzak, the museum's chairman, said the museum is willing to look at any proposals suggested by the city.

The quick move also would leave Central Station, in the heart of downtown, without a primary tenant.

Perlut said Progress Energy would work with the city to find other companies to fill that space.

Don Shea, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, said he didn't foresee problems finding new tenants.

"It's a good location," Shea said. "It should appeal to a number of different companies."

City Council member Jay Lasita said there are a number of details to review but his initial impression was favorable. He said he was pleased to see Progress Energy make a commitment to remain in downtown St. Petersburg.

"I'm also glad that there will be some commercial development there," Lasita said. "Residential development is good, too, but it's nice to see something else at that location."

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This is exactly what the city wanted -- to vacate the Maas Brothers building to make way for a new tower. I'm happy it's an office tower also. It probably will be 20 stories or less, but it will add to the density. This is great news.

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This is a great chance to see a new unique well designed building in the heart of downtown as well as more street level connectivity with space for retail and restaurants. Hopefully, it won't be too boxy.

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I'm hoping for a more modern, unique "landmark" or "monument"-type building. I read today in an article that Progress Corp decided not to go with the Tropicana Block development. Maybe, other than financial reasons, it could be because they wanted to have their offices in a building that made a bigger architectural statement, assuming that the Tropicana Block towers will probably be in the same Mediterranean Revival style that everything else recently built has. Well, I hope they come back with a better offer for the land or another developer comes with something Progress feels it wants to be a part of. Also, with the location right accross from the Baywalk garage, the continuation of retail/restaurant space is just natural. I'm looking forward to seeing the proposals.

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I see about 20 stories, with some parking (but not too much) - so you are looking at 300-350 feet, likely. I would assume the architecture will be tasteful but not too extravagant. Actually, I kind of would like a med revival OFFICE building - I think there is potential for making that quite interesting. St. Pete already has some unique stuff - like the Bank of America - why not flip out another weird rendition of some overuse style.

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