ST. PETERSBURG — City officials thought they were making a wise investment when they recommended giving federal stimulus money earmarked for Childs Park to Terrance Bradford.
St. Petersburg officials were offering Bradford $114,000 to build a three-bedroom house on 16th Avenue S as part of an emergency program to provide assistance to neighborhoods decimated by foreclosures. They tapped Bradford, president of Tampa contractor Pro-Fit Development Inc., as the one who best could do it, recommending him over two other companies that bid on the job.
It was such a no-brainer that the City Council was set today to rubber-stamp the selection by approving the award with no discussion.
But city officials yanked the contract off the agenda after they were informed Wednesday by the St. Petersburg Times that Bradford defaulted on a business loan in July and was ordered by a Hillsborough judge to pay JPMorgan Chase Bank $50,000.
"(The contract) will reappear at a future date as we re-evaluate the bids," said Louis Moore, the city's director of purchasing and materials management. "We don't know if we're coming back with this vendor or if we will recommend the next lowest bidder."
The next lowest bidder is Phoenix Systems Engineering, an Orlando firm that bid $130,000 on the project. After that is James E. Decker Construction Co. out of Lakeland, which bid $160,000 on the project.
Unlike Tampa, which has struggled to obligate the federal grants in time for a September deadline, St. Petersburg is on schedule with the so-called neighborhood stabilization money, officials say. Passed by Congress in the summer of 2008 while George W. Bush was president, the program sets aside nearly $4 billion to buy foreclosed homes. The money can be spent to rehabilitate existing homes or knock them down and build new ones. Existing homes can even be "banked" to sell at a later date.
Cities have until Sept. 3 to obligate the money. If they don't, the Housing and Urban Development Department will take the money back to use in the next round of spending. Joshua Johnson, the city's director of housing and community development, said the $9.5 million awarded to St. Petersburg will be spent or dedicated by Aug. 20.
Johnson and Goliath Davis, the city's senior administrator for community enrichment, tout the program as a success. The money has been spent on 58 homes and 36 apartment units to boost a sagging housing markets in some of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods.
"We've done an outstanding job," Davis said. "We've been able to secure properties that need repair or were vacant, and would otherwise have contributed to blight."
Bradford's company hadn't been selected before, Johnson said. The bids for a new house at 3482 16th Ave. S were opened by city officials on July 15. After it was clear Pro-Fit Development was the lowest bidder, city officials researched to see if the company was capable of completing the job.
A search of contractors banned by HUD didn't turn up any mention of Pro-Fit. City officials called references Bradford listed in his application. The city recorded the recommendations, noting that they were quite positive.
For instance, a "Mr. Adderly" said that Pro-Fit finished a housing project on time, within budget and with no problems. But when reached by the Times, Adderly refused to give his first name. He said Pro-Fit did great work on repairing his house, but he wouldn't provide details. Asked how long ago the job was, or how much it cost, Adderly said he didn't know.
At about the same time Bradford's company was being evaluated by the city, he lost a lawsuit in Hillsborough. On July 14, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Bernard Silver ordered he pay $50,275 for defaulting on a line of credit. Bradford didn't disclose the dispute in his bid application to the city. Silver's order wasn't recorded by the clerk of courts until July 26.
The default would have been caught by the time the city signed a contract with Pro-Fit, Davis said.
Bradford, 31, didn't return several phone calls for comment. Records show that during the boom years, Pro-Fit helped flip properties in the same neighborhoods that have been hard hit by the housing collapse.
For instance, Pro-Fit is listed as selling a house in Central Tampa in 2006 to Rehabber's Superstore Inc., a company run by one of the region's most prominent flippers, Kenny Rushing, for $30,000.
Rushing, a former crack cocaine dealer who served time in federal prison, then sold the same house back to Pro-Fit less than three months later for $100, property records show. A year later, Pro-Fit sold the house for $165,000.
Now, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's office, the house is worth about $66,000.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.