ST. LOUIS • The lure of the building at 1915 Olive Street for a new home for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is easy to explain, police officials say.
The 143,000-square-foot building is wired for the use of state-of-the-art technology. Then there's the fact that it's near downtown and with ample space for parking.
And, for $2.7 million, it was more economically sound than building a new headquarters.
"We would have loved to have taken a parcel of land and built a new facility," said St. Louis police Capt. Sam Dotson, also the chief of staff to the Police Board of Commissioners. "Because of its layout and open floor plans, it would fit our needs, and won't require a lot of tearing down walls."
The department said it bought the seven-story building at 1915 Olive from Wells Fargo for about $5 million less than its market value. The building was previously owned by A.G. Edwards, the financial services firm that was taken over by Wachovia, which in turn was later acquired by Wells Fargo.
The Police Department used its asset forfeiture fund — money that courts order to be seized as proceeds from crimes — to pay for the building.
The current police headquarters, at 1200 Clark Avenue, dates to 1927 and needs extensive renovation, including repairs to its heating and cooling systems, new plumbing and work to address fire hazards. An engineering firm told the department it would cost about $75 million to renovate the building.
"It's just the general state of an 83-year-old building," Dotson said. "By today's standards, it just doesn't meet what you would expect a modern agency to have."
Police officials began talking with owners of the Olive Street building about a year ago.
"This is a win-win, both for the citizens of St. Louis who expect the department to be fiscally responsible and also for the men and women of this department who deserve a safe and functional work environment," Bettye Battle-Turner, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, said in a statement released Friday.
Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis G. Slay, said the mayor was very supportive of the move. He voted last month in favor of authorizing the department to work out a deal with building owners.
"The current facility is … in need of major improvements," Rainford said. "To bring it up to current standards would be very costly. The Police Department's got a very good deal here, with the amount they're paying for a nice building instead of rebuilding.
"The transaction they're talking about makes a lot more sense."
The six-story Clark Avenue building is 168,000 square feet — 25,000 square feet larger than the Olive Street building — and has 150 parking spaces. The building on Olive Street has 350 parking spaces, 284 of which are indoors.
Two summers ago, Police Chief Dan Isom went to the Board of Police Commissioners and proposed three options to get out of the current building. Those were to pour tens of millions of dollars into the current structure for an overhaul; make a temporary move while the current building is torn down and a new one built in its place; or make a permanent move into a vacant building already in the city.
Officials raised $9.6 million through a bond issue about four years ago to begin renovations on the current building. About $100,000 was used on various things, including an assessment showing exactly how much it would cost for renovations to get the building up to today's standards. Police spokeswoman Erica Van Ross said the department was working to redirect the funds for renovations in the new building.
The $2.7 million sale price marks a giant discount from the $9.8 million list price that Wells Fargo had on the building and from its construction cost 21 years ago.
Sherwood Medical Corp. paid $18 million to build the building as its headquarters in 1990. The city of St. Louis had provided millions in tax breaks in order to keep Sherwood from moving to the suburbs. But Sherwood moved anyway in 1998 on orders from its owner, Tyco International.
A.G. Edwards bought it in 1999, invested in renovations, and used it for information technology operations for a while. The brokerage house was later bought by Wachovia, which was bought by Wells Fargo two years ago.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Rachelle Rowe said the building had been vacant for several years. But why did Wells Fargo accept a price of $2.7 million?
"When you own an unoccupied building, you still have to heat it, cool it, pay taxes on it, maintain it," she said. "When negotiations started, there was a feeling that if this could happen it would be good for the city of St. Louis, because it's the Police Department. We welcome them as neighbors."
The building is four blocks east of Wells Fargo's main campus on Jefferson Avenue.
A downtown real estate expert said Friday that the deal was "a very prudent buy by the city Police Department."
Jack Reis, principal of Colliers International in St. Louis, added that the department's move would increase activity in the area west of downtown.
"It will become a much more vibrant area," he said.
And the department has been addressing uses for its current building. Dotson said that could include anything from leasing it out to having it recognized historically.
"We don't want to have another empty building downtown," he said.
Dotson said bids would be accepted for the interior renovation of the new building, which would include furnishing interview rooms, holding areas for suspects and offices for different divisions.
The police crime lab, which is adjacent to the Clark Avenue building, will stay at its current location.
The department could be moved into its new digs in 18 to 24 months, depending on the bidding process for renovations.
"We're excited," Dotson said. " We wanted to stay in the downtown core. And this is certainly not a stop-gap measure. It's a full commitment to moving police headquarters."
James Gallagher and Tim Bryant of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.