The USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center was established in the late 1980s to investigate processes in coastal and marine environments and their societal implications related to natural hazards, resource sustainability, and environmental change. Learn more about our history below.
The history of USGS in St. Petersburg, Florida
Phase I: USGS Arrives in St. Petersburg
In 1987 the USGS began searching for a location to expand their Office of Energy and Marine Geology’s Atlantic Marine Geology Branch—a precursor to today’s Coastal and Marine Hazards and Resources Program—and establish a new location for a USGS Center for Coastal Geology. In October of that year, the University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science submitted a proposal with support from the St. Petersburg Progress group (now known as the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership), who sought to revitalize this area of St. Petersburg. The addition of the USGS Coastal and Marine Science Center was one potential cornerstone for this revitalization.
The USGS selection committee was composed of 10 staff who visited four sites along the East Coast of the U.S. in early 1988 to find a location for the new center. Eventually, the team voted unanimously on St. Petersburg, Florida, partly due to the tremendous support of the local community and the USF College of Marine Science.
The USGS selection committee chose the historic 20,000 ft2 Studebaker Building as the new St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC) and renovations began in late spring of 1988. The initial group of six staff members worked in a temporary downtown location—a former podiatrist's office, until the building was renovated. At the June 1989 dedication of the updated building, then-USGS Director Dallas Peck commented, "We are looking forward to the partnership with USF and others in the Florida community that will make the Center for Coastal Geology a world-class focus for understanding and solving some of the critical problems facing the Nation's coastal resources."
Phase II: The Getting Building
By 1995, the staff of the Center had grown to approximately 60 and construction began on the second Center building. This building expanded the capabilities of the USGS to include more offices, a large sediment and coral laboratory, core archive space, electronics shop, workshop, and a loading and staging area for field research. The Getting Building was completed and opened on May 8, 1996, named after Paul L. Getting. Mr. Getting was a local business leader and the executive Vice President of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce whose dedication was instrumental in bringing the USGS to St. Petersburg. The dedication ceremony took place January 27, 1997.
Phase III: The C.W. Bill Young Marine Science Complex
Pursuing effective Earth science studies requires a multidisciplinary approach and a broad range of expertise. Consequently, after a decade of growth, the USGS designated the St. Petersburg Office as a center for integrated science.
Phase III construction began in 2002. The newest building of SPCMSC encompasses an area of 11,400 ft2 and features six state-of-the-art laboratories, a dive locker, and 12 additional offices. Dedicated in March 2008, the third building is the latest addition to the C.W. Bill Young Marine Science Complex. Named for Congressman C.W. Bill Young, the Marine Science Complex is a cooperative venture that includes the USF College of Marine Science, the USGS SPCMSC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, Florida Sea Grant, Eckerd College, and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.
Studebaker Building History
Originally built in 1925, the building was financed by Frank Lyon and leased to the Peninsular Motor Company of Southwest Florida to be used as a Studebaker dealership and repair shop. The company thrived as the 4th largest Studebaker dealer in the 1920s but closed a few years later during the Great Depression. The Studebaker Distributor sign is still present on the side of the building and is maintained in spirit of the building’s history. The wagon wheels of the Studebaker logo, cast in stucco, can be seen along the top of the building facade and pay tribute to the Conestoga Wagons (ca mid-1800s) that the Studebaker Brothers sold before they ventured into automobile manufacturing.
The building was occupied by several other businesses throughout the years including a grocery store, a laundromat, and a cigar company. The original tile in the front lobby and the open style of the building and ceilings are in keeping with the original architecture. Large storefront windows line the first floor of the building, for viewing vehicles on the tile showroom floor, with former sales offices behind. The upper floor, lined with factory-style windows, housed the repair shop, and was accessed using a large industrial car lift. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 5, 1985, and the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places in 1986, for both its historical affiliation with the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s and its architectural significance as a commercial structure resembling industrial buildings of the era.
USGS St. Pete Today
The USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center has grown from a core group of geologists and oceanographers to over 100 staff members including biologists, oceanographers, data modelers, remote sensing specialists, biogeochemists, microbiologists, coral reef experts, support staff, marine operations crew, data management specialists, and more. The center continues to thrive with numerous research projects and 57,000 ft2 of labs, office, and workspace. The Center is an active part of the local St. Petersburg science community, nestled among many other scientific organizations within the St. Petersburg Innovation District. The center's staff continually seeks ways to share data, tools, and scientific knowledge with the public to help our Nation prepare for a changing world.