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St. Petersburg surgeon bids to buy former Universal Health Care office for $10.5 million

The Universal Health Care building in St. Petersburg was vacant.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2013)

The Universal Health Care building in St. Petersburg was vacant.

ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg surgeon and his partners have reached an agreement to buy the former downtown headquarters of bankrupt Universal Health Care for $10.5 million.

A Leon County judge on Friday approved the sale of the two-floor office building at 100 Central Ave., which has been under state receivership since the once-triumphant Medicare insurer filed for bankruptcy last year.

Both buyers and sellers are now close to finalizing the all-cash deal. The sale of the office, which was marketed by Colliers International, is expected to close May 30.

The 133,000-square-foot office would be sold to Dr. Kevin Hirsch, a St. Petersburg trauma surgeon at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, and a "small group" of partners Hirsch declined to name.

Hirsch, 53, said seeing the office molder in the heart of this city's thriving downtown was an urban buzzkill that spurred him and his partners to invest.

The office "is in the focus of everybody's mind. It's Central Avenue, it's downtown St. Pete, it's this big old building … and it's just been languishing," Hirsch said. "It's always been under my skin a little bit. I thought, maybe there's something I can do about it."

Hirsch said he'd like to steer the building away from office space and more toward the kind of dynamic retail offering "you see in Miami, Dallas, Washington, D.C., or New York."

"Ground level, people looking through windows at a desk with a phone behind it, that's not what people want to see on Central Avenue," he said. "You want people to come downtown and interact."

A former Bayfront Medical Center surgeon, Hirsch has also worked at the Hernia Center, a clinic on the Bayfront campus, and helped open several Florida centers, called Kidz Clubs, for children with special medical needs. His wife, Linda, founded and owns the AnuYou Institute, a St. Petersburg medical day spa.

The office building, first listed last year at $11.3 million, attracted numerous bids from buyers with questionable financial backing or with offers "nowhere close to the asking price," court records show.

A November appraisal kicked the office's price down to $10 million. Six levels of parking above the two stories of office would not be included in the sale.

The sale would drive another nail into the coffin of the disgraced insurer, whose former managers are under criminal investigation.

The FBI raided the building last year; an investigation is ongoing. After the company was declared insolvent, roughly 1,000 workers lost their jobs.

More than 200 pieces of art from the office were sold at a September fire sale of the office's telemarketing boiler room and lavish executive suite.

How quickly Hirsch's plans could come together remains to be seen, and he suggested the most "significant activity" would start at the building in 2015.

"I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to leave it empty for three to five years and just speculate one day it'll be a great investment," he said. "This is the here and now for me."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

St. Petersburg surgeon bids to buy former Universal Health Care office for $10.5 million 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 8:02pm]
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