Condo owners in St. Pete's troubled Signature Place will get a tax break, but buyers have dried up

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Susan Taylor Martin

Published October 25, 2015


ST. PETERSBURG — There's finally some good news for owners in downtown St. Petersburg's beleaguered Signature Place condo tower — they're getting a tax break.

The not-so-good-news: Sales in Tampa Bay's tallest condo building have all but dried up since news broke in August that owners face an $8.7 million bill to repair what experts have called "major construction defects."

For now, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office is reducing tax assessments in a move that will save each Signature Place owner at least a few hundred dollars on the next tax bill.

"I'm trying to provide them with a break in value to recognize they have an extra cost," Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said. "When it's repaired it goes back to full market value."

Under Florida law, property appraisers can adjust assessments when homes are damaged by "misfortune or calamity" — generally, a hurricane or tropical storm. Dubov said she also has made downward adjustments for damages caused by sinkholes.

"This isn't something we just invented last week," she said, "but it doesn't happen very often."

Depending on the size of the unit, each owner in the 244-unit Signature Place will have to pay between $10,000 and $75,000 over 10 years to remedy construction and design flaws in the 6-year-old building. Crews have been working for months to remove and replace improperly installed stucco that could fly off in high winds.

"I haven't been able to use my balcony, the elevators are squeaking and I live in a construction zone," complained unit owner Birte Patenaude, who owns a condo on the 15th floor of the 36-story tower. At one point, the retired teacher demonstrated outside the building with a signboard featuring caricatures of developer Joel Cantor and others.

A year ago, the Signature Place Condominium Association sued Cantor's company as well as the engineer, architect and construction company. Since then several other companies that did work on the $200 million tower have been drawn into the lawsuit, suggesting litigation could drag on for months if not years.

Multiple Listing Service records show that only one Signature Place unit has sold since mid August when owners learned they would be hit with the $8.7 million special assessment for repairs.

Realtor Geert Benoot had a Signature Place listing that expired in September without a sale although the unit had been on the market for 365 days with a price drop from $784,800 to $759,900.

Benoot said he planned to meet with the owner this month to see if he wanted to renew the listing, but expected it might be kept off the market for a time.

"I really like the building, I like its location," Benoot said. "It's just that there's a lawsuit that prevents some if not most banks from giving loans and the special assessment related to the building makes it harder for people to look at it or be interested in it.

"It is still a wonderful place to live," Benoot added, "but the storm needs to blow over a little."

As of Monday, 18 other Signature Place units were for sale — five more than in the other seven downtown condo towers combined.