Article Courtesy of The Tampa
By Susan Taylor Martin
Published June 30, 2018
ST. PETERSBURG — Among the many opponents of Bezu, a proposed condo tower in
downtown St. Petersburg, are residents of the adjacent Spanish Palms
Partly due to their complaints, the city council rejected plans for the 23-story
Bezu in February. That forced the developers to reduce the size and start the
approval process all over.
But one of developers, Michel Regignano, found a way to hit back, two Spanish
Palms residents say. When a lift truck needed for gutter repairs at their condo
drove onto the vacant Bezu site this month, Regignano locked the gate so the
truck couldn’t get out.
To unlock it, he demanded $1,000 — in cash.
"He said, ‘You guys have caused me so much pain,’" said Jack Rice, president of
the Spanish Palms Condominium Association. Both he and his wife, Realtor Kelly
Lee McFrederick, have publicly criticized the Bezu project.
Regignano denies the $1,000 was in retaliation for the couples’ opposition.
Instead, he said, it was for the cost of his time — "I charge almost $250 an
hour" — tracking down who was responsible for the truck.
"They can think whatever they want to think," he said of the couple. "I don’t
have a lot of trust in them given what they‘ve done in the past."
Jack Rice, left, a resident of the Spanish Palms
condos in downtown St. Petersburg, waits while Michel Regignano of
the proposed Bezu condo tower prepares a receipt for the $1,000 he
demanded to unlock a gate.
The truck was freed after the money changed hands. The incident, though, has
further inflamed tensions over Bezu and focused more attention on the man who is
the public face of the project.
Regignano said he has a long background in real estate, including site location
for new post offices and Panda Express restaurants. During a launch party for
Bezu in September, he also portrayed himself as a successful developer of
"boutique" condo projects in Miami and Washington D.C.
Records, though, show a sometimes troubled history.
Listing his occupation as "self-employed consultant," Regignano declared
bankruptcy in Virginia in 2011 with assets of $935,181 and liabilities of $9.4
million. The filing showed several Washington D.C. townhomes and condos in
foreclosure or other financial straits. .
Regignano’s debts were discharged in 2013 but he was back in the same Virginia
bankruptcy court a year later with a petition to reorganize under Chapter 13.
That listed $1.17-million in debts, including $850,000 owed on his Arlington,
Va. house and $53,342 owed to the IRS. He reported a net monthly income of just
The case was dismissed in 2015 after a bankruptcy trustee labeled as
"preposterous" Regignano’s claim that he would be able to repay creditors up
$6,650 a month.
Regignano, who lost his house, attributes the bankruptcies to the 2008 financial
crash. "Like every other developer, I took a hit," he said.
Two years ago, Regignano moved to the Tampa Bay area and started two new
companies — The Driven Ziggy and The Bezu Condominium. Last fall, The Driven
Ziggy issued a private placement memorandum with the goal of raising $4.128
million from investors to jump-start Bezu.
The memorandum said the project would be managed by Peter J. Francis, an Ormond
Beach entrepreneur whom Regignano calls a longtime friend. Francis has invested
in real estate projects and also has founded, owned or partnered in several
companies including Wave Software and a Virginia craft brewery.
According to the memorandum, Francis invested $828,715 in Bezu and was one of
three members. The others were a Maryland man and Regignano, neither of whom had
made a "capital contribution" to the project.
In December, Regignano appeared as the agent for Bezu when the city’s
Development Review Commission heard plans for what was then a 300-foot-high
tower with 29 units. Commissioners unanimously voted against the tower, agreeing
with opponents who said it would be grossly out of scale with the historic
75-foot Flori de Leon apartments next door.
After the city council also rejected the plans, the project was cut back to 180
feet and 20 units. On June 6, the review commission approved it but opponents
are still appealing to the council.
After the meeting, McFrederick and Rice went to Boston. In their absence, a man
who was going to repair the gutters at their condo rented a lift truck so he
could reach them.
According to the couple, the gate to the vacant lot next to the Spanish Palms
had never been locked, even after The Driven Ziggy closed on the land in March
for $3 million. So on Friday, June 8, the truck drove through the gate and
across the Bezu property to access the Spanish Palms.
McFrederick and Rice were flying home that Sunday when a neighbor texted to say
that Regignano had seen the truck, still on the lot. He put up "No Trespassing"
signs, locked the gate and said he wouldn’t unlock it until he spoke to Rice,
head of the condo association.
First, Rice said, Regignano wanted proof of insurance in case something happened
while the truck was on private property. Rice supplied the proof, but the gate
When they spoke again, Rice recalled, Regignano said he had spent time on "this
situation" and wanted $1,000 to open the gate because of the "pain" it had
On Tuesday night, June 12, the Spanish Palms condo board authorized the $1,000
payment. Regignano wanted it in cash at 9 the next morning so Rice had to go to
two ATMS to pull out that much money. At the appointed time, he handed it over
and Regignano wrote out a receipt.
Regignano said he would have locked the gate regardless of who let the truck on
the Bezu site. "I said, ‘Look, I can’t let this go. You expose me to all kinds
of liability,’" he said.
However, he couldn’t explain why the gate was locked only after the truck
incident involving Bezu opponents. In the three months since the Bezu developers
bought the property, dog owners and others had trespassed on it because they
could get through the gate, he acknowledged.
Regignano said the Bezu team has been responsive to the concerns of area
residents, including those in Spanish Palms. "We’ve thrown a lot of resources
into this deal. We want to make it work and we want to be good neighbors," he
McFrederick, whose condo association is out $1,000, doesn’t agree:
"Is this the person you really want as your neighbor in downtown St. Pete?"