ST. PETERSBURG — A company that worked on the ONE St. Petersburg luxury condo tower says it is owed nearly $260,000 even as employees of another firm are still trying to collect thousands of dollars in back pay.
Chris Love, president of Gator Mechanical of Tampa Bay, says he had to quit the job and lay off 20 workers earlier this year after his company went unpaid.
"We would submit a monthly draw on the 25th of each month and that would go from month to month and not get paid," said Love, whose company was hired to install air conditioning ducts and do other ventilation work on the 41-story tower in downtown St. Petersburg.
Love has paid his employees but filed a lien in July for $259,574 against KT First & First, LLC. The 253-unit tower is being built under that name by the Kolter Group, a West Palm Beach company that develops condos and hotels including the newly opened Hyatt Place next to the tower.
Love’s firm, which is currently working on several new Publix supermarkets and car dealerships throughout Florida, was among the original subcontractors on ONE St. Petersburg. He says payments to his firm slowed, then stopped because it purportedly was behind on the job.
"Everything was behind, which made us behind," he said.
Alex Cervera of KAST Construction, a Kolter-affiliated company that is general contractor on the condo tower, said he was busy and not able to comment when a reporter called him today.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, nearly three dozen employees of another subcontractor, MIK, complained that they hadn’t been paid in weeks. The owner of that firm, Michael Degan, said he had to pull out of the project because it hadn’t been paid for jobs elsewhere and couldn’t meet payroll in St. Petersburg.
Degan’s former workers said they were owed as much as $5,000 each, causing some to fall seriously behind on rent and other bills.
Their plight has caught the attention of the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, which handled 191 claims of "wage theft" in the past fiscal year and helped return a total of $160,000 in wages to underpaid or unpaid workers.
"They are welcome to contact us. We certainly want them to know we are here,’’ director Paul Valenti said of the former MIK employees.
Advanced Masonry Systems, a Sarasota company brought in to finish the masonry work on ONE St. Petersburg, has since hired several of the workers and wanted to give them an advance.
"We thought it would be a good idea because those guys hadn’t been paid for so long," said Ron Karp, the firm’s vice president.
But KAST Construction nixed that idea, he said, on the grounds it might complicate the workers’ efforts to collect from the bonding company that guaranteed payment if MIK defaulted.
Karp said he was surprised so much work remains to be done on ONE St. Petersburg, which will be the tallest building on Florida’s West Coast. But despite the problems with subcontractors, he thinks it still could open on schedule late next year.
"One of the things I’ve learned over the years," he said, "is that you can watch a project that’s maybe six weeks from completion and you say there’s no way it’s ever going to happen and in the last three weeks everything buttons up and comes together."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate