Developer of controversial St. Pete condo tower locks in lift truck -- and demands $1,000 to let it out

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

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 condominium.


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 $313.

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 remained locked.

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 caused.

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 said.

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?"