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BayWalk complex put up for sale for $8 million

BayWalk, the onetime crown jewel of downtown St. Petersburg, is on sale.

The $8 million asking price is a fraction of the $20 million city taxpayers poured into the complex, not to mention the $14 million invested by the former owner.

Real estate experts question whether the shopping and entertainment complex will fetch even that price.

The 74,500-square-foot center opened in 2000 and at one time housed 40 businesses. Today, only six businesses, including a movie theater, remain open.

Colliers International Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate firm, began marketing the center Wednesday. The owner, CW Capital Asset Management, believes the time is right to sell, said Michael Milano, managing director at Colliers.

Several potential buyers have expressed interest in recent months, he said, and the market is flush with cash.

"Our goal is to find a buyer who shares the enthusiasm to get it re-energized," Milano said.

One potential buyer recently walked away frustrated after the owner ignored his offer.

Joel Cantor, the brash developer of Signature Place, the 36-story luxury condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg, said he made offers ranging from $2.5 million to $5 million, depending on terms of the deal.

He publicly criticized the owners for ignoring his offer.

Cantor said he is still interested, but not at the asking price.

"It's a risky place, but it's not worth $8 million," Cantor said. "I am local. I can turn it around."

He cautioned that any suitor needs to overcome BayWalk's image of attracting hordes of young people and protesters who drove away much of BayWalk's once-substantial customer base.

Milano said he plans to contact Cantor about his previous offer.

Don't expect a flood of potential buyers, a real estate expert said. Jim Michalak, co-managing partner of Plaza Advisors in Tampa, said any buyer will consider the square-foot price.

He sold Centro Ybor in late 2006 for $14 million. The 212,000-square-foot entertainment and retail complex fetched about $66 per square foot. It opened the same year as BayWalk.

He thinks BayWalk is overpriced at $8 million, or about $107 a square foot. Michalak expects the price to generate interest, but he predicts it will sell for much less.

In late 2007, Tampa-based DeBartolo Development considered buying BayWalk, but not at the $14 million needed to pay off the mortgage.

The company is one of the nation's bigger shopping center and mixed-use developers, and has spent hundreds of millions on distressed properties around the country.

The firm is still interested in BayWalk, president Ed Kobel said Wednesday. Key to making it successful, he said: creative leasing plans to attract specialty retailers hit hard by the weak economy.

He too expects the complex to sell for less than the asking price.

"We like the location," Kobel said. "It needs a complete overhaul."

The $8 million listing price is $300,000 less than what the city paid just to assemble to the land before giving it to developers.

City taxpayers spent a total of at least $20 million to build the downtown complex, significantly more than BayWalk's original developer, the Sembler Co., or former owner Fred Bullard, according to a 2009 Times analysis.

Bullard defaulted on a $14 million BayWalk mortgage on behalf of Wells Fargo bank. No buyers bid on BayWalk during a public auction in February 2009 after the lender seized the property in foreclosure.

The city continued to pump cash into BayWalk, hoping it could be revitalized. In 2009, it spent $300,000 to improve security and lighting at the promenade leading to complex and the Midcore garage at First Avenue N used by complex patrons.

In October 2009, the City Council approved ceding the public sidewalk in front of BayWalk to rid it of protesters and loitering teens.

Mayor Bill Foster did not return a call for comment.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.

BayWalk time line

April 1996: The city begins the process to rebrand two vacant downtown blocks that were once to be part of failed Bay Plaza redevelopment.

August 1999: The city finalizes the BayWalk agreement. Under the deal, the city builds the parking garage, and the Sembler Co. builds the retail and restaurant complex and movie theater.

November 2000: BayWalk opens.

September 2003: 12 people are injured and six people are taken to the hospital when at least 500 people chase $2 bills being thrown in the air by "Money Man."

January 2005: A fight at BayWalk that starts with two 13-year-old girls spreads through a crowd. It eventually includes more than 1,500 teens and takes 69 police officers more than two hours to restore order.

July 2005: Officials erect barricades to control sidewalk traffic. Antiwar demonstrators who have been holding forth for more than two years claim they are being pushed out.

February 2007: A 3-year-old is injured at BayWalk when a speaker falls from the second floor.

September 2008: Sembler agrees to sell controlling interest in BayWalk to partner Fred Bullard. Terms of the deal are not announced.

November 2008: Wells Fargo files foreclosure lawsuit. Bullard says he will not fight foreclosure.

Early 2009: CW Capital Asset Management takes over ownership of BayWalk. The company says it plans to invest as much as $6 million to spruce up the complex.

October 2009: In a controversial vote, the City Council privatizes the public sidewalk in front of BayWalk.

July 2010: Neil Bretan, CEO of Muvico Theaters, criticizes BayWalk's disrepair after visiting the complex.

Wednesday: BayWalk put up for sale for $8 million.

BayWalk complex put up for sale for $8 million 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:48pm]

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