Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
By Susan Taylor Martin
Published August 27, 2015
Joel Cantor, developer of St. Petersburg's Signature
Place condo tower, denies any blame for the building's construction problems
and says the $8.7 million repair bill should be paid by the architect,
builder, insurers and the city of St. Petersburg.
In a letter Thursday to Signature Place owners, Cantor also said he recalls
dropping off a nearly $1 million check to the city's building department to
ensure the 36-story tower "was built to specifications."
|"That's a big check for many
inspections,'' he said in the letter, which his company also
emailed to the Tampa Bay Times.
The letter came the same day the Times reported that owners
are being assessed as much as $132,000 each to correct
dozens of alleged design and construction flaws in the
6-year-old building. Among them are "missing or improperly
installed" rebar, as well as stucco that could fly off in
The Signature Place Condominium Association has a pending
lawsuit against Cantor's Gulf Atlantic Communities, Lend
Lease US Construction (formerly Bovis), a Chicago
architectural firm and an engineering company.
But in his letter, Cantor shifts responsibility for any
problems away from himself and squarely onto Bovis, the
architect and the city.
"I thought this was a good time to explain what steps I took
to ensure that Signature Place was built not only to code
but above the required standards," Cantor said in his
letter, which calls the condo tower "my baby, which I put my
heart, soul and life's work into."
Signature Place resident Birte Patenaude, 70,
protests the shoddy work and assessment for repairs on Thursday
outside of the complex. Patenaude will have to pay $27,537 in
special assessments for her one-bedroom unit. The payments will be
spread out over 10 years. "The whole thing is just ridiculous and
stupid," said Patenaude. Condo owners in Signature Place are being
charged $8.7 million to correct "urgent construction defects" in the
6-year-old building including deteriorating stucco and rebar.
Cantor said his development group paid Bovis — a major
international firm — nearly $500,000 for a "construction forensic
consultancy" to document every step of construction.
He said he paid Perkins + Will of Chicago, one of the world's largest
architectural firms, $1.5 million-plus for "construction administration" and
an on-site architect to ensure the tower was built according to plans.
And, he said, he recalls giving the city's building permit department a
$986,000 check for a permit. "I met with the city many times and told them
to work with my architect to ensure it was built to specifications," the
letter said. "That's a big check for many inspections."
The Times story quoted Rick Dunn, the city's building official, as saying it
was difficult for inspectors to check "every inch" of a building when they
have so many inspection to do.
Dunn did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Cantor's letter did not mention the project's engineering firm or include it
among those he said should have to pay for repairs. Dunn had told the Times
that a project's owner — in this case, Cantor's company — is responsible for
hiring a state-licensed engineer to inspect rebar and make the reports
available to city officials.
Cantor could not be reached for comment. His Gulf Atlantic Communities is
inactive, but is still listed as owner of what appears to be office space in
Signature Place. In his letter, Cantor calls himself a "unit owner, too" and
said he "stands willing to help the (condo) association in any way I can."
State corporate records show that he currently heads Cantor Fund Management,
a St. Petersburg-based private equity real estate firm that specializes "in
the acquisition and turnaround of high quality distressed and
under-performing real estate assets,'' according to its website. Its
holdings include medical office buildings and small shopping centers in
Tampa, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Indiana, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina.
In 2012, Cantor sold his Tampa home, where he once hosted a fundraiser for
first lady Michelle Obama, for $5.2 million, saying he wanted to spend more
time at his home in Telluride, Colo., with his wife and four sons. At that
time, he also owned a condo in St. Pete Beach.