Condo owners at St. Pete’s Signature Place to cough up $8.7M for repairs
Tampa Bay Times
Susan Taylor Martin
19 August 2015
Condo owners in Signature Place, Tampa Bay's tallest and newest condo
tower, are being hit with $8.7 million in special assessments to
correct "urgent construction defects'' that endanger residents and
Repairs to the six-year-old building in downtown St. Petersburg
originally were estimated to be less than $700,000 but mushroomed after
experts discovered "missing or improperly installed'' rebar, which
helps strengthen exterior walls.
Work to remedy the many alleged defects — which include stucco that
could fly off in high winds — has been underway for months and now is
expected to last until December 2016. That is far longer than first
"I'm sitting most of the time with earplugs, it's so loud," condo owner Birte Patenaude said Wednesday.
According to the assessment schedule given all owners, Patenaude will
have to pay $27,537 in special assessments on her one- bedroom unit.
Although the amount will be spread over 10 years, it will still add
$230 a month to the $768 she already pays in condo association fees.
"Everybody thinks everybody living here is a millionaire but I'm not,''
said Patenaude, 70, a retired teacher who lives on $35,000 a year from
a pension and Social Security. "And I'm not the only one struggling.''
Signature Place has many units that are moderately priced by
luxury-condo standards: Patenaude paid $277,000 for hers five years ago
after selling a house. The assessments, which will start Oct. 1, range
from $9,910 for the smallest units to $132,244 for the three-story
penthouse, according to the schedule obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.
Many are in the $50,000 range.
G. Derrick Roberts, who paid $1.835 million for the penthouse in
February, said he knew before buying that the Signature Place
Condominium Association was suing developer Joel Cantor, Lend Lease
Construction (formerly Bovis) and others.
"Obviously at that point nobody knew how big it was going to be,'' Roberts said.
He said he was among a "vocal'' group of owners who thought repairs and
assessments should be delayed until the suit was resolved and the condo
association knew how much, if any, money it would receive.
"But the board voted and we have to abide by it and do whatever the board thinks best,'' he said.
Condo association board members did not return calls for comment Their
lawsuit, filed in October, cites more than 100 alleged construction and
design defects in the 36-story tower. Among them is cracked and
improperly applied stucco that has allowed water to leak into the
In February, consultants also discovered problems with the underlying
concrete block walls, as well as with the connection of the walls to
the floors and beams.
"As areas of stucco were removed, other hidden defects in the
construction were revealed,'' the condo board told owners in a July
update. "These defects affect the health and safety of residents and
pedestrians and cannot be ignored.''
According to the update, the defects included missing or improperly
installed rebar in the concrete block exterior walls previously
concealed by stucco.
"While the concrete walls are not load-bearing, they are designed to
resist code-required wind forces that could someday hit the building,''
the update said. "They are essentially the skin of the building, but
are somewhat structural in nature in that they have to survive
hurricane load winds.''
Asked whether city inspectors should have spotted the defects, Roberts,
who is in the construction industry, said: "Absolutely.''
"One of the reasons why there are inspections and that you have city
inspectors is that they come through and are supposed to be catching
all of this,'' said Roberts, president of a company that represents
makers of commercial heating and air conditioning systems.
He added, though, that " inspectors are human and make mistakes.
Mistakes get made all of the time. It's how you fix your mistakes.''
Rick Dunn, the city's building official, said rebar is supposed to be
inspected by state-licensed engineers hired by the project's owner.
They are required to make their reports available to the city, though
Dunn could not say whether the city looked at those for Signature Place.
As for other components of a new high-rise, "It's pretty difficult for
any building department to do a complete inspection of every inch of a
building when you're doing 20 inspections a day,'' Dunn said.
Signature Place, at 175 First St. S, was announced in 2005 at the peak
of the real estate boom and neared completion just as the market
collapsed in 2008. Plagued by slow sales, Cantor, the developer, had to
slash prices and finally resorted to an auction to unload dozens of the
Special assessments for condo repairs are not unusual though they
typically involve much older buildings in need of new roofs and the
like. Owners in the nearby Bayfront Tower have been assessed for
deteriorating outer walls but that was built in the 1970s.
Although Signature Place's problems became public almost a year ago,
the high demand for condos in downtown St. Petersburg has helped keep
sales fairly robust. The Multiple Listing Service shows eight units
have sold in the past six months, including one owned by Brian Daly,
whose drunken, boorish behavior was the subject of a Times story last
Daly sold his 24th floor unit in July for $480,150 — almost $70,000 less than he originally asked.
Other units have fetched closer to asking price. Thirteen units
currently are on the market at prices ranging from $409,000 to $1.1
Roberts said he is still glad he bought the penthouse, dubbed
Glasshouse for its floor-to-ceiling windows. He liked it so much he
even bought all of the contemporary furnishings.
"I absolutely love my place and would purchase it again tomorrow,'' he
said. "The people inside (Signature Place) are phenomenal. At the end
of the day the building is structurally sound, it's not gong to fall
Patenaude, the retired teacher who is also a talented artist, said she,
too, loves living in a striking downtown high rise. But she is so angry
about the problems that she plans to protest in front of Signature
Place with posters showing caricatures of Cantor and past and present
St. Petersburg mayors.
She also wants the condo board to remove a plaque near the entrance on
which Cantor extols Signature Place as a "monumental piece of art'' and
says developers have a responsibility to improve and enhance the cities
in which they build.
"This totally offends me,'' she wrote to the condo board, ''and he should be ashamed of his self-congratulation.''
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