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City Council approves plans for new restaurant, library

By BRYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The St. Petersburg City Council agreed Thursday to plans that will bring a Carrabba's Italian Grill to the Sunken Gardens on Fourth Street N and help build a library on the St. Petersburg College campus at 67th Street and Eighth Avenue N.

The council approved the restaurant deal despite concerns that the city is not charging enough rent.

The lease is $70,000 per year for about 7,000 square feet. The rent will rise 10 percent every five years if the restaurant chain exercises its options to renew the deal.

"I have some real serious problems with this situation," council member John Bryan said. "We're renting to Carrabba's for $10 a square foot. Rents of $14 to $18 a square foot are typical on Fourth Street."

But Bruce Grimes, a city staffer who helps the city buy, sell and manage its real estate, said the figure came in above an appraisal of $7.50 per square foot.

He also said it had been difficult to find a restaurant willing to work with a historical building where it could not change the facade or mount a sign. Carrabba's will build a separate arbor on which to mount a sign.

The building once held the Public Sanitary Market and later a Coca-Cola bottling plant. The city is restoring the structure to its original appearance, and the chain will pay the estimated $1.4-million required to turn part of the hollow building into a restaurant.

On the library deal, the council quickly approved it with few questions. Members had heard public opposition to the plan, but still decided it was a good deal for the city.

The city will invest $2-million to help build a 50,000-square-foot library. The college will invest millions more.

College students and city residents will share the library, with the city contributing about $300,000 per year toward operating it. The new library will replace a similar partnership library at Azalea Middle School, which will close.

Also Thursday, the council elected Earnest Williams to serve as chairman for the next year and James Bennett as vice chairman.

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