News Column

Developers want to buy, upgrade troubled St. Pete apartments

February 15, 2014

By Christopher O'Donnell, Tampa Tribune, Fla.

Feb. 15--ST. PETERSBURG -- A group of Atlanta real-estate developers is planning to transform one of the city's most troubled apartment complexes into an upscale community.

The group last week paid about $11 million to buy Mariner's Pointe, an aging, rundown apartment complex in south St. Petersburg that has been plagued with crime and complaints from residents about mold and flooding.

The Atlanta-based company plans to embark on a $5 million rehabilitation of the complex to modernize apartments and to improve the community's swimming pool, tennis courts and other amenities. The complex, where a security guard was shot and killed in 2011, also likely will be renamed.

"It's a great asset and location; it's very accessible to the beaches and downtown," said George Quay, managing partner of Weller Residential, which is coordinating the rehabilitation. "We can really improve the area."

Residents of the low-income complex will be notified of the sale by letters. They will be able to stay for the duration of their lease but likely will face higher rents if they intend to stay longer.

Phase one of the project will involve renovating the exterior of the buildings in coming next months and beginning work on the interiors of empty apartments. Roughly 40 percent of the complex is unoccupied, Quay said.

Depending upon the floor plan, a one-bedroom rehabbed unit would rent in the low $800s, roughly $220 more than the current rate. Proposed rents for larger apartments would be closer to existing rates.

Quay said there is no intention to price existing residents out of the complex. About 170 apartments would receive minor improvements and have lower rents. Those units would be upgraded later if the redevelopment proves popular.

"We absolutely are going to make renovated units available to current residents," Quay said. "Whether people will take advantage of that or not, we will have to see."

Residents of Mariner's Pointe have complained for years that the apartments are infested with mold and that they flood when it rains. The complex, built in 1972, also has experienced drug dealing, shootings and fights in the street.

After the 2011 shooting, council Vice Chairman Steve Kornell collected crime stats for the complex, which showed more than 1,000 calls to police during an 18-month period.

Repeated complaints from residents that the owners painted over mold or did not make repairs prompted Kornell to summon the complex's management to a city council workshop in November.

Kornell said the sale will benefit residents even if they cannot afford the new rents and have to move.

"We should be able to have clean, safe, affordable housing," he said. "We didn't have safe and we didn't have clean. We should never settle for less than all three."

But people who live in the complex expressed mixed feelings about the sale and the prospect of looking for a new home.

Micah Harris, a seven-year resident, described Mariner's Pointe as a "dump" but said he is worried about finding somewhere equally affordable. "We would be really concerned about finding some place to live," Harris said.

Others said they welcomed the chance to leave.

Arthur Johnson moved into the complex in July, paying roughly $700 for a two-bedroom apartment where he lives with his girlfriend and their two sons. He said the apartment is overrun with gnats and that trash from residents who moved out stays uncollected for weeks. He is hoping the sale means he can break his lease without a penalty.

"I never knew it was like this until I got here," he said.

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO


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