As they discussed possible details of a new St. Pete Police headquarters, city council members repeatedly cautioned that their decision wasn't to approve a plan for a new police station — it was only to agree on allowing a portion of the funding to come from Penny for Pinellas dollars.
Currently, the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters at 1300 First Ave. N. looks like one you would see in a 1970s TV cop series. It's not up to code, it's falling apart in places, and the department's auxiliary buildings are similarly in disrepair, city officials say.
"It has been deteriorating, now, over a number of years and frankly over number of mayors," said Mayor Rick Kriseman. "And the city has been engaged in a series of Band-Aids, really, over the years, just to try to keep things functional for the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day. I think we've reached a point where we have to stop doing the Band-Aids and we have to start planning for our future."
During his State of the City Address last month, Kriseman revealed his plan for funding the project, something city officials have long been talking about.
“This is a priority that has been long since past due," said Councilman Charlie Gerdes, who saw the issue come up many times when he was on the campaign trail in 2011.
The Penny for Pinellas money, which comes from a penny-per-dollar sales tax levy that funds infrastructure, is available to the tune of about $20 million because other projects within the county — among them the Clam Bayou leg of the Pinellas Trail and a stormwater mitigation project in the Bear Creek area — were completed (OMG!) well under budget.
The money brings the total amount available for a new police station to $70 million.
The only member of the council to vote against the proposal was Wengay Newton, whose district encompasses a large swath of the poorest parts of south St. Petersburg. Some of the projects that were completed under budget were in his district, which he said is in dire need of improvements.
“The money for the districts should stay in the districts,” Newton argued.
Mike Connors, the city's public works director, said the current building is so far gone that simply renovating it wouldn't do much good.
“We can renovate, but in a lot of ways it's a lot like throwing good money after bad,” Connors said.
Connors said the project will probably break ground in 15 months.
The council also heard their first report on another of the mayor's priorities: arts funding.
Wayne Atherholt, whom the mayor tapped in November to be the city's arts and cultural officer, presented on how he'd like to spend $200,000 in city funding to enhance St. Petersburg's standing as a city of the arts.
“We're really trying to help them help themselves if you will,” Atherholt said. “Everything from the smallest street artist to the largest art org you have in this city.”
After his lengthy presentation, many members of the council applauded his efforts, but were concerned that there was too much emphasis on marketing via things like banners and VIP passes for travel writers, and not enough on things like small grants for artists.
“It seems very heavily focused on marketing,” said Councilwoman Amy Foster. “This $200,000 was intended to be direct support to artists.”
She noted how there was already money in the city's budget that'll be used for marketing the city.
"I think I'd like to see some of the marketing levels come down and some of the grants to artists beefed up,” Foster said.
Atherholt's appointment ruffled the feathers of some serving on a city panel that deals with arts issues, namely because Elizabeth Brincklow, the city's former Cultural Affairs director, was let go and replaced with Atherholt.
The council, while they had criticisms of his plan, were complimentary of his efforts, though, and said it could be modified moving forward.
“There is nothing more in the world that I want than for you to be absolutely successful,” Rice said.
But there were few in the audience for Atherholt's presentation, which members of the council noticed.
“Where are the people that were asking us for arts funding?” said Councilman Jim Kennedy. “The emptiness of these seats concerns me.”
Atherholt acknowledged that sometimes there's a disconnect between artists, especially those in their 20s or younger, and the city officials attempting to help those who are living and working in the city in addition to those who might visit the city to buy their work.
“We've got to do a better job of reaching the people who are already here,” he said.