ST. PETERSBURG — A Tampa company that got its start in the arcane business of bidding on tax deeds is embarking on its first condo project — two buildings in downtown St. Petersburg with a total of up to 78 units.
The condos will replace several old houses at Third Avenue S and Fifth Street in an area that has seen an explosion of apartment construction in the past few years. Brian Davison, CEO of EquiAlt, said all of the condos will have three bedrooms because there are relatively few new rentals with that many.
"We felt like that if it takes two years to build and the economy is not as strong as it is today — which it may very well not be — and we can't sell them off, we can rent them as upscale three-bedroom (apartments)," he said Friday.
EquiAlt bought one house last year for $750,000 and recently purchased a nearby parcel containing three houses for about $1.5 million. A law firm's parking lot is between the two parcels, so the condos will be spread over two buildings. One with 18 units could start construction within 60 days, Davison said, and the other will have 40 to 60 units.
Because EquiAlt is self-financing, he said, the work can begin with no pre-sales or reservations. That's unlike the case with most condo projects, including the 41-story, 253-unit ONE St. Petersburg rising several blocks away, and Vela, a proposed 20-unit building nearby that has yet to get out of the ground although it was announced more than a years ago.
The EquiAlt condos will be a short walk from shops and restaurants on Central Avenue, catty-corner from office buildings housing the Tampa Bay Times and directly across from a 366-unit apartment building under construction.
"I feel great about that area," Davison said. "It's exciting to be part of all the energy and activity downtown."
The houses being demolished, which date to the early 1900s, had been converted into apartments that were among the few affordable rentals left in downtown St. Petersburg. Davison, whose company bought Tampa's oldest house to preserve it, said it was not economically feasible to save the St. Petersburg houses. The company is giving tenants cash for keys to cover deposits on new lodgings, Davison said.
A former lender hurt by the housing crash, Davis has said he "reinvented himself by learning how to profit from tax deed auctions whose owners failed to pay property taxes. That enabled EquiAlt to acquire scores of homes throughout Tampa Bay, most of them snapped up for less than their market value.
Davison no longer bids on tax deeds. "It became a situation where people were paying full market value for a property on the courthouse steps and still needed to clear up the title" and other issues, he said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected]abay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.