In a major change of plans, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now asking state legislators to approve the construction of a nearly $30 million regional headquarters complex in the Tanyard neighborhood in downtown Pensacola.
In early 2016, FDLE made a funding request to build a $15 million, 56,000 square foot Pensacola Regional Operations Center adjacent to the Gen. Chappie James state office building on West Government Street.
The proposed budget for the center has since doubled to $29.3 million, along with the site the complex is proposed to be built on. The state’s law enforcement arm is now asking to build out an entire city block on Romana and Reus streets downtown, across from the site of the former historic John Sunday house estate, which was razed by attorney Charles Liberis in 2016. After promising to develop the site, Liberis later flipped the property to Mobile, Ala. developer Dean Parker. While Parker has proposed luxury townhomes for the site, the property remains vacant.
The proposed FDLE site, currently a surface parking lot utilized by state employees and vehicles, would be developed into a multi-story complex of four buildings, totaling about 85,000 square feet. The site was formerly home to dozens of historic homes in the Tanyard neighborhood before county and state officials approved utilizing eminent domain to raze much of the neighborhood in the 1970s to make way for the new Governmental Center District in Pensacola.
The proposed complex and design will go before the city’s architectural review board this month for conceptual approval. Pensacola-based Sam Marshall Architects is the architect-of-record for the project. If the city approves plans for the project and the agency’s budget request is approved by the state legislature, FDLE officials hope to begin construction by next fall on the complex.
“If funding is approved, construction can begin as early as September 2018,” the FDLE said Tuesday. “Construction is anticipated to be completed in 2020.”
It’s unclear why the budget for the proposed facility has since doubled. A FDLE spokesman said the agency was working to provide those answers to The Pulse this week. Additionally, it’s unknown why the agency moved the location of the proposed headquarters from the West Government Street site. Site work to clear several large oak trees adjacent to the Gen. Chappie James building began this summer but has since halted.
FDLE has operated since 1994 out of the historic P.K. Yonge School on North Palafox Street. Built in 1921, the building houses FDLE’s Investigations and Forensic Science (including the Regional Crime Laboratory), Criminal Justice Information Services, and Criminal Justice Professionalism units. FDLE officials say the 95-year-old building is in need of “serious, costly renovations, which the landlord has been unwilling to provide.”
According to the 2016 budget request, the 25-year lease of FDLE’s current offices includes an annual rent increase, which has resulted in a current lease cost of $33.33 per square foot — nearly double the state recommended rate of $17.18 and substantially higher than the current Escambia County average commercial rate of $22. Attempts to renegotiate the lease rate have been unsuccessful, the agency said.
The lease can only be terminated if state-owned space in Escambia County to accommodate the agency’s needs, but officials say that no such space exists. They’re asking legislators to sign off on an initial $3 million to engineer and design a new building. In its request to lawmakers, FDLE officials noted that sufficient space exists on the Chappie James parcel for another building, which would be within walking distance of state and federal courthouses.