Construction of a new $37 million Hillsborough County public safety operations center moved a step closer to reality Thursday, as county commissioners chose to build a new center from scratch rather than retrofit existing buildings.
Commissioners, by a 5-2 vote, accepted recommendations made in a report by Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate company. In its report to the county, Cushman said building a new operations center would be the best way to meet all the criteria the county set out when it requested proposals from owners of private buildings.
The building, which will be built on property the county owns on Columbus Drive near Falkenburg Road, will house emergency operations, fire rescue headquarters and training, code enforcement and the county's main computer servers. The building will be hardened to withstand up to 200 mph hour winds.
The consultant said any financial gains made by retrofitting existing buildings would not outweigh the ability of a new building to withstand catastrophic storms.
"While it appears that there are financial benefits that can be realized if the county selects an existing property," the consultant's report said, "the significance of the shell building modifications or the improvements required to meet the Public Safety-Operations Center standards have a tendency to overcome the majority of that perceived financial benefit."
Cushman & Wakefield vetted all the responses to the county's request and narrowed them to four finalists: the former Hav-a-Tampa cigar plant on Riga Boulevard; the former Kearney Construction building on Joanne Kearney Boulevard; the Crescent property within the Crescent Business Park off U.S. 301; and the Camden Field property, also off U.S. 301.
All the private sites had major deficiencies, such as being in evacuation zones or flood zones, or structural deficiencies.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who voted against accepting the report along with Victor Crist, dismissed the report as a way to kill any proposals other than building a new building, the course advocated by County Administrator Mike Merrill and Fire Chief Ron Rodgers.
"We spent $25,000 for an analysis on these buildings and got some generalities that didn't answer the concerns we had," Higginbotham said.
In other business Thursday, commissioners approved completion of the next-to-last segment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, dismissing threat of a lawsuit by eye doctor James P. Gills III. A portion of the trail will pass near Gills' property and he asked the county to change the alignment.
Gills' lawyer, Gordon Schiff, said in a letter to commissioners that the planned trail alignment would affect the doctor's "property rights, cause safety concerns and conflict with uses of his property."
County Administrator Mike Merrill said it would cost $200,000 to modify the plans in the manner Gill wanted. Commissioners voted 7-0 to go ahead with the project.
The segment is 1.25 miles and will connect the trail from Lutz Lake Fern Road south to near Van Dyke Road. After its completion, the only segment left will be between Peterson and Van Dyke roads, just under a mile. When it's finished, there will be a continuous pedestrian trail from Hillsborough County near Hillsborough Avenue up to Hernando County.