The Blackstone Group said Friday that it might buy homes in the Tampa Bay area and turn them into rentals, but that it will not be spending $1 billion here.
The response comes after the Tampa Bay Times published a story in Friday's newspaper saying that the private equity firm would spend $1 billion over the next three years in this area buying up to 15,000 homes, many of them foreclosures.
Blackstone and other large firms are opting to become landlords, capitalizing on decimated home prices, rising rents and an abundance of tenants, many burned by the housing bust.
Peter Rose, a spokesman for Blackstone, said publicly Friday that the Tampa Bay area is one of several metro areas it is looking at for buying properties. Rose told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the firm has started acquiring homes "in a number of cities across the U.S.," but added that the amount of money spent in any one city would be a "tiny fraction" of $1 billion.
Rose did not return phone messages or an email from the Times on Friday.
The Times was told of the $1 billion amount and other details by Nick Pavonetti, owner of the St. Petersburg-based PDC Group, which was helping Blackstone buy homes.
The Times did not confirm the details with anyone at Blackstone's headquarters in New York City.
On Friday, Pavonetti said he had terminated his relationship with Blackstone.
"I don't want to get sued. I want to stay out of court," Pavonetti told the Times on Friday. "For that reason, it's best I don't address Blackstone directly."
Pavonetti confirmed that he spoke to Blackstone officials on Friday morning.
"We did not speak about the veracity of the numbers," he said. "We only talked about how I should have kept my mouth shut."
Blackstone oversees more than $190 billion in assets for public and corporate pension funds, academic and cultural and charitable organizations. It is the nation's biggest buyer of strip malls, suburban offices and other commercial real estate, including ownership of Hilton Hotels.