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St. Petersburg reopens bidding on Midtown land

The mayor says the city must try for a private buyer who can provide jobs before it can sell to Job Corps for a campus.

Published May 14, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The city began accepting new offers on 16 vacant acres in Midtown this week despite concerns that the bidding may jeopardize a multimillion-dollar job training program.

County Commissioner Bob Stewart said the city's request for proposals on the Dome Industrial Park land puts $25-million in federal money at risk. The money was awarded two years ago to build a Job Corps campus in Pinellas County.

But St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said the Department of Labor, which runs the Job Corps program, and Stewart, who is leading the local effort to lure the program, knew the city had to readvertise the property before it could sell to Job Corps.

Baker said he would like nothing better than to accept an offer from the Department of Labor, which is looking to build the campus at 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue S after two other sites fell through.

But Baker and his staff say the city must first do its due diligence by making one last attempt to sell the land to a developer who can deliver jobs, not job training.

The city reopened bidding Wednesday and will accept offers until June 10. The city is specifically seeking a developer who promises at least 137 jobs. It also requires construction to begin within 18 months of the City Council's approval and be completed within five years.

Nevertheless, Baker and his staff say the potential deal with Job Corps is very much alive.

The Department of Labor's initial offer of $2.25-million for the Midtown land expires today. A spokesman for the Department of Labor declined to comment on the deal.

"The city has done a tremendous amount to attract Job Corps from the beginning," Baker said. "I don't believe it's dead at all at the Dome Industrial Park."

In 2003, Pinellas beat out nearly two dozen metropolitan markets for the Job Corps program, which helps at-risk youths ages 16 to 24 gain job skills through classroom, practical and work experiences. The program would accommodate 300 students a semester.

Stewart said he already has begun looking for new sites and has identified three that could meet the government's criteria.

He has serious concerns about the city sharing the Department of Labor's offer with other prospective buyers. The amount of the federal offer was published in the request for proposals sent to others interested in the land.

"I don't think it was appropriate to disclose the price, for sure," Stewart said. "I just assumed it would be a neutral, as opposed to, "Here's what's on the table, can you top this?"'

The city purchased the land six years ago with money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with a promise to bring jobs to Midtown, the city's most depressed area.

Two years ago, the city advertised the property and received four offers. But none could satisfy the requirement for jobs. In recent months, Job Corps approached the city about buying the property.

City leaders agreed to consider it but said they must seek community input first. The city attorney also said the city is required by state law to readvertise the land for sale to private interests.

City Council members say this is Baker's decision.

"I'm not happy about it," said council member James Bennett, who said he's worried about the potential outcome.

"The bottom line is, will the federal government wait for us to go through this process, or will it go away? I would hate to see us lose the Job Corps simply because of some technicalities."

Council chairman Rick Kriseman said he's satisfied with the mayor.

"Our staff has told us that they've had discussions with the feds, and they are aware of what's going on," Kriseman said. "They have a comfort level, and at this point in time, it is not at risk."

[Last modified May 14, 2005, 01:17:08]

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