Reluctantly giving a break to a billionaire
To facilitate the cleanup of one of Clearwater's harshest eyesores, the Municipal Code Enforcement Board last week agreed to drop $144,000 of liens against the owner of Cleveland Street's Strand condominium tower.
But before approving the deal (which comes with conditions) municipal code enforcement board member Mike Riordon put the building's current owners on the spot.
"They're one of the biggest companies in the world," Riordon said at the Jan. 27 meeting. "They're not poor, and it just bothers me that we're giving any kind of a break to a company this size who has the resources. And we have other people come up here, and we tell them you've got 30 days to fix your driveway or we're going to charge them $250 a day."
The current owner, Espacio USA, is the American arm of Immobiliaria Espacio, a wealthy Spanish real estate firm.
According to Forbes, the company's deputy chairman, Juan Villar-Mir De Fuentes, has a net worth of $3.3 billion and in 2011 was given the title of “marquis” by the King of Spain.
As Riordon astutely noted in the meeting “they're not poor.”
The company has also made their mark already in Florida – in 2010 they bought 1400 Biscayne Center in Miami for $32 million and flipped it in 2014 for $57.3 million, the Miami Herald reported.
The Strand has been a sore spot for the city ever since Espacio bought the then-mostly vacant office building in 2004 with plans to build luxury condos. They started work gutting the building but construction stopped in 2008 when the economy tanked, and the owners left it to fall apart. As it sat there deteriorating, Espacio racked up the code violation fines, paying $105,000 to date and $144,000 outstanding.
Homeless have taken shelter there, teenagers have partied there, and visitors see an eyesore there. The fact that such a wealthy company allowed their building to sit deteriorating for so long didn't sit well with Riordon.
“I want what's best for the city, but I want you to know and them to know that we know they always had the money, they always could have developed this project,” Riordon said. “They could have done it all themselves, they could have found their own developer, they could have liquidated it. They could have done something. They didn't have to have the city code board come down on top of them.”
That said, the lien agreement passed 5-0. Read about how a potential $33 million project could transform the Strand in this week's regional story.