City approves big money for land
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Building a land package so an industrial park can be developed in a poor neighborhood, the City Council last week bought 11 parcels for prices up to five times more than the properties' county-assessed tax value.
A large difference between sales prices and assesments often is routine when public agencies buy private property, officials say.
"When governments go in . . . the price shoots up," said council member Bill Foster.
The council approved spending $1.438-million for property near Fifth Avenue S and 22nd Street. It also okayed another $43,800 in closing costs and $6,600 in attorney fees.
The purchase is expected to become part of the Dome Industrial District's "pilot project," which will be the initial effort to redevelop the neighborhood west of Tropicana Field.
First, land has to be assembled. Then the city will seek a developer. None has yet been publicly identified as being interested.
"We need to purchase these properties even to begin to attract a developer," said Council member Rene Flowers, whose district includes the parcels.
"We need to be fair . . . when you look at what we paid Bay Plaza just to get out of town," Flowers said, referring to the expense of severing the city's relations with its designated downtown developer in the 1980s and '90s.
The purchase money comes from a combination of grants and government-backed loans.
Some of the prices approved are several times higher than the property's assessed value, which tells what a property is worth for tax purposes. Those figures are often much lower than a property's purchase price.
For example, the city is paying $165,000 for property at 618 22nd St. S, assessed in January 2000 at $32,500.
Reuben and Josephine McCall have owned it since 1967, when business along 22nd Street still thrived, several years away from a decline that continues today. Through the years, the property has been the site of lounges and restaurants, but nothing is open there now.
Was it a fair price?
"They never give you what you want," said Josephine McCall. She declined to comment further.
Owners choose appraisers from a city-approved list to have property evaluated. Owners also can hire an independent appraiser. Figures are reviewed by still another appraiser before offers are made. Sometimes there are negotiations between the city and owners.
It is not unusual to pay what seem to be high prices when property is being assembled for some purpose, said Pam Dubov, Pinellas County's chief deputy appraiser.
Said Bruce Grimes, the city's property and real estate manager:
"I think the appraisers are looking at (properties) in kind of an optimistic fashion, but well-based on the facts and analyses that have been reviewed."
He readily acknowledged that in some cases, prices can appear to be more than fair.
"Certainly. That's one of the benefits of a redevelopment project to the individual owners," he said.
Records show other property purchased (with January 2000 assessments) included:
2154 Sixth Avenue S for $46,000, owned by Wesley Sheffield (assessed at $26,300);
2166 Emerson Ave. S for $77,000, owned by James M. Gibson of Miami ($25,000);
538 22nd St. S for $58,000, owned by Gibson ($15,500);
a package of four properties along Fifth Avenue S for $672,000, owned by the St. Petersburg-based C&O Holding Co. ($406,900);
537 20th St. S for $60,000, owned by Christopher and Matthew Marone of St. Petersburg ($28,100);
536 21st St. S for $60,000, owned by the Marones ($25,500);
and the southeastern corner of 22nd Street S and Sixth Avenue for $300,000, owned by Sheffield ($79,000).
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