ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members indicated Thursday that they aren't ready to consider hiring a private contractor to manage the city's only public housing complex despite a recent city audit that suggested they do just that.
In a heated discussion with the interim managers of the Jamestown Apartments and Townhomes — longtime manager Joyce Grogan retired early after the audit called her management into question — council members said the city had long neglected the complex and should assess its rentability before moving forward with privatization.
Mayor Bill Foster was not at Thursday's housing committee meeting even though he said in a meeting last week that he would "absolutely" be there to discuss the fate of the complex. A receptionist said he was off Thursday and Friday and had originally planned to attend.
This month, Foster said he wanted to manage the complex on Burlington Avenue North "more like a business."
Emotions ran high Thursday, with council members calling some complex units "un-rentable" and lamenting what they called the city's failure to respond to Grogan's requests for help.
Council member Herb Polson compared the situation to "having an open wound and not doing anything about it."
That's not necessarily the case, Jamestown representatives said. The complex is known for its low crime rates and neighborhood atmosphere, they said, while acknowledging that there's room for improvement.
"There are some things behind the scenes that really do need to be addressed," said interim manager Theresa Jones, of the city's Human Resources Department. The complex is almost 40 years old, and many units need renovations like new HVAC systems and kitchen and bathroom remodels, she said.
Council member Wengay Newton said the complex's Dwight H. Jones Neighborhood Center also needs work.
"I am appalled with that center. I cannot believe the shape it's in, and we let that happen," he said. "It's been painted once in 20 years. There's mildew all over the walls, all kinds of stuff. Nothing was ever done."
Internal Services senior administrator Dave Metz said plans for a $200,000 renovation of the recreation center are under way.
And though 35 percent of the complex's 76 units are vacant, Jamestown's managers hope to move in four to five new residents soon.
Jones said she's looking to attract both low-income and moderate-income tenants.
Council member Jeff Danner said the city should determine the cost of improving the complex before moving ahead on any plans to hire a private contractor to manage it, and the committee voted to hear further reports at a future meeting.
Still, most seemed in favor of keeping the complex city-owned and city-operated.
Aubrey Whelan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8316.