Pipes sit on the lot where city officials planned to build a city hall complex. [ WENDY WEITZEL | THE STAR ]
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Port St. Joe considers alternate locations for new city hall complex after contamination is discovered

The city had big plans for the lot off of David Langston Drive and Avenue A — a sprawling, state-of-the-art city complex featuring a police station, a firehouse and a new city hall.

But when a letter arrived from the Department of Environmental Protection a few months ago, momentum stalled.

A large portion of the land, purchased from the St. Joe Company earlier this year for $590,000, is contaminated — a fact which was not disclosed to the city at the sale and which rendered the lot unfit to house the planned facility in its current state.

Now, months into negotiations, the city and the St. Joe Company are attempting to execute what city officials refer to as an “even swap,” in which the city would acquire a property of equal or higher value from the St. Joe Company.

“We’re in negotiation with St. Joe company now to swap out another space for it, so basically we’re going be walking away from that property,” said Port St. Joe Mayor Rex Buzzett.

“It’s not a done deal. But I mean, we spent a lot of money for that property to build a city complex, which is certainly needed, and then the Police Department and Fire Department. So we’re in negotiations with The St. Joe Company and the title company, who made a mistake on when we bought it, to get our money back or swap or another property for it.”

The contamination was neither discolsed by the St. Joe Company at the sale of the property nor discovered by the title company who was involved in the sale, according to city officials.

The St. Joe Company has offered an alternative location for the city hall complex, on a piece of land off of Highway 71 and First Street. The lot has not yet been checked for contamination, and the city expressed this would be necessary before agreeing to the swap.

The Avenue A lot would return to the custody of the St. Joe Company, where other organizations have already set their sights on it.

At the Nov. 15 meeting, Cheryl Steindorf, the President of the Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation, a non profit organization helping to spur redevelopment in North Port St. Joe, approached the podium to gauge the commissioners’ support for her organization’s plan for the land.

The lot used to house a baseball field, which produced several of Port St. Joe’s biggest names. The PBCDC say it’s a legacy they want to see honored.

“We’d like to experiment with a small part of the space and have some portable seating and activities for children to see how the community would use the space,” Steindorf said. “We’d like to come back to you with a formal proposal, after monitoring the activity for a couple of months, and an opportunity to unite the placemaking theories with the Master Plan. We’d appreciate you giving us an opportunity to explore how human infrastructure can move interest in investment in MLK.”

The commissioners expressed they would gladly consider writing a letter of support for the project, so long as the land is deemed fit to house these facilities.

Chester Davis, another member of the PBCDC, mentioned that the organization could look into cleaning up the land with one of the grants they secured from the EPA for this purpose earlier in the year.

“We see (the land) as an asset. You certainly saw it as an asset,” said Steindorf to the commissioners. “I say we all work together to make sure that it turns out to be an asset.”

The St. Joe Company declined to comment for this article.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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