Don't plan on that wedding reception at the Parkview Hotel at Central Avenue and Park Street after all. Instead, consider a retirement party there.
A developer and investor who raised hopes by touting a much needed renovation of the historic, Mediterranean revival hotel and even booked weddings there, isn't paying his property taxes and has a history of grandiose ideas that don't come to fruition. But a building official says another investor has expressed serious interest in buying the 66-room hotel at 7401 Central Ave. either from the owner or at a foreclosure auction.
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"This person may have interest in a retirement type facility," said city building official Rick Dunn. "We're working with him to set up a meeting to talk to the zoning department to understand the zoning uses." He would not name the potential buyer because the deal is still in the works. Dunn has extended building permits filed by current owner Norman Kerr in hopes that construction, which has been at a standstill for at least a year, can resume under a new owner.
"I would love to see the city force somebody to do something," said John Rawls, who lives on First Avenue N directly behind the hotel that Kerr named the Parkview Hotel. "If somebody would just spruce it up I could deal with most anything. I have to sit and look at it every single day so I'm especially disgusted with it."
Kerr, a Minneapolis and South Florida developer, paid $3.5 million for the 92-year-old property in 2007, historically known as the Crystal Bay Hotel. It now has a market value of $1.2 million according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser.
Before Kerr's investment group, Central Avenue Hotel LLC, bought the hotel overlooking Boga Ciega Bay, neighbors say it charged low rates and attracted clients that in turn attracted crime and the police on a regular basis. So they were thrilled to hear Kerr's plans called for updating rooms, increasing rates, adding a swimming pool and opening a restaurant in the former ballroom that supposedly once hosted Glenn Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth, Al Capone and Robert Kennedy.
Along with not following through on his plans, Kerr, who could not be reached for comment, hasn't paid real estate taxes on the building either. But fortunately for him and Pinellas County, somebody else paid the taxes through the common practice of buying the tax certificate.
Essentially that means the investor pays the taxes, and the property owner has to pay that person back with interest. Eventually, an investor who hasn't been paid back can force the property to be auctioned.
Kerr didn't pay the 2007, 2008 or 2009 real estate taxes on the building. But three separate entities bought the tax certificates and thus paid the taxes for him.
Just days before the 2007 certificate would turn 3 years old and give the holder the right to force a foreclosure, it was paid off.
"Somebody has an active interest in protecting the property rights here," said Sam McClelland, Pinellas County deputy tax collector. "I'm just reading the tea leaves but if somebody was going to walk away would they come in at the last minute and pay all this money? Somebody pulled together $50,000 and that's a serious effort."
By the end of October when the building permits near expiration again, the latest hope for the Parkview Hotel — be it Kerr again or a new investor— may emerge.
Kerr, 70, has been involved in many projects in Florida and Minnesota that have resulted in a variety of outcomes including flipping and foreclosure. He has formed dozens of corporations, most of which are now inactive. Liens and lawsuits follow him. His hometown newspapers frequently call him a "dreamer." The word "grandiose" seems to accompany him as often as the legal and money problems.
In the mid 1990s, he tried to build a $400 million casino in an old railway station in Minneapolis. A few years later he planned to start a daily newspaper in a market that already had two competing papers in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Here in St. Petersburg, he doesn't have to do near as much to impress folks. If he just keeps the grass cut at the Parkview, neighbors will be pleased. Dunn said now that the empty building is secured and the lawn is maintained every 30 days there are no code violations against Kerr.
"It's never going to be maintained to the level the neighbors are maintaining their single family residences," Dunn said. "I periodically drive by to check it and if I need to call (the Parkview management) they respond quickly."
News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Katherine Snow Smith at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.