ST. PETERSBURG — It is not yet a complete metamorphosis, but the signs are there.
A new fence. Sod. Clusters of gold, red and crimson coleus. New magnolia trees. Fresh paint.
The 368-unit apartment complex even has a new name, St. Charles Row, its sixth name since it was built in 1972.
Until recently, it was known as Mariners Pointe, and like previous incarnations, burdened with a reputation for crime.
A limited liability corporation called DWSS St. Pete bought the complex for $11 million in February and promised to pour millions into renovations and rebranding. No longer would it offer government-subsidized housing, the new owners said. Residents behind on their rent by more than 30 days would be asked to move or face eviction. Others with erratic payment histories would not have their leases renewed.
Council member Steve Kornell, who represents the area, said he tried unsuccessfully to work with the previous owner, Texas-based AHF-Bay Fund, to improve the property.
He wants government agencies to hold landlords accountable for the conditions under which people who get subsidized housing live, Kornell said. That just didn't happen at the former Mariners Pointe.
"It was cited for open sewage running out into the ground on the outside of the apartments at least six times," he said. "I took pictures of the mold and the bugs and the leaking roof."
Postcard invitations featuring a photograph of a professionally decorated model apartment recently drew curious visitors and prospective renters to St. Charles Row.
One- , two- and three-bedroom units and townhomes range in price from $729 to $1,209. Amenities include swimming pools, a clubhouse, business center and a dog park. There's also 24-hour security.
Chris Koback, area manager for Weller Management, the St. Petersburg company hired to run the property, said its new name was designed "to honor the 'St.' in St. Petersburg."
"From the beginning, we always thought there was a bit of a New Orleans feel in the community with all of the balconies and iron rails, so we also tried to tie New Orleans to the community," he said via email.
"Then we looked down the main street and noticed the row of houses and different colors we selected — and our designer thought of the row houses in New Orleans and St. Charles Avenue."
Work to upgrade the apartments began at the Pinellas Point entrance and will continue toward the back of the property, which stretches to 66th Avenue S. The transformation will not be complete for more than a year.
Meanwhile, new people have begun to move in.
Koback said 60 apartments are still occupied by former Mariners Pointe renters and he expects some to remain.
"Every resident who is in good standing is being offered the opportunity to apply under the new rental criteria. … We've had approximately 10 residents who have reapplied and will be staying with us and we know of a few more that have also said they will be reapplying."
Advocates for affordable housing geared up to help low-income residents who would be displaced.
"Trying to help people find housing is very difficult, compounded by if anybody has any kind of eviction or record of any kind," said Clifford Smith, the city's manager of veterans, social and homeless services.
But few sought help.
"I was prepared to be inundated," he said, guessing that some people moved in with family or friends.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or(727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.