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Susan Taylor Martin, Times Senior Correspondent

Susan Taylor Martin

For someone who doesn't particularly care to fly, Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin has logged a lot of hours in the air — in the past decade she has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and China. She covered the invasion of Iraq, the war in Kosovo and the war against terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On 9/11, she and two other Times staffers got in Martin's aging car and drove 24 hours nonstop from Tampa Bay to New York City, her hometown. Among the other breaking stories Susan has covered were the death and funeral of Princess Diana, the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein and the handover of Hong Kong to China. There have been lighter moments, too. Martin has written about a restaurant in Jerusalem dedicated to Elvis Presley's memory; a Scottish hamlet that finally got TV and hated it; and the gay and transvestite scene in Turkey, a conservative Muslim country. Her hobbies include figure skating, antiquing, flea-marketing, and rooting for the Blue Devils basketball team of Duke University (her alma mater).

Martin has won numerous state and national journalism awards, including the 2007 Paul Hansell Award presented by the Florida Society of News Editors for distinguished writing and reporting.

Phone: (727) 893-8642

Email: susan@tampabay.com

Blog: Hot Spots

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  1. Floridians wait, and wait, for mortgage help

    Real Estate

    At 79, Joseph Oates knows he can't wait forever to get mortgage help. But he's beginning to feel like he might have to.

    In September 2013, the retired railroad worker applied to Florida's Hardest Hit Fund for a program that would pay down his mortgage by up to $50,000.

    Finally, last week, Oates got approval from state underwriters. But his application now goes to his bank for review, which could take another six weeks. And he still doesn't know how much relief he'll get. ...

    Times Joseph Oates, 79, in front of his Seffner home on Friday, is frustrated with Florida’s Hardest Hit Mortgage Assistance Program. He has been waiting for over a year to get help.
  2. More in Tampa Bay seeking home equity credit lines as underwater mortgages fall

    Real Estate

    The number of Tampa Bay homeowners who are under water on their mortgages has plunged, fueling a surge in applications for home equity loans.

    In the three months ended in September, only 22 percent of bay area homes had negative equity, down from a peak of 48.4 percent in early 2012, according to the real estate database Zillow.

    That keeps Tampa Bay in line with other major urban areas that have also seen a sharp drop in underwater homeownership. ...

    The number Tampa Bay homeowners who are underwater, owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth, has decreased from 48.4 percent in early 2012 to 22 percent this September.
  3. Are Jeff Vinik's downtown Tampa office space plans too ambitious?

    Real Estate

    TAMPA —With nearly 14 percent of downtown Tampa's office space currently vacant, Jeff Vinik's plans to add 1.1 million more square feet might sound ambitious and even unrealistic.

    Yet commercial real estate experts say downtown could support its first new office tower in a generation as more and more top-flight companies jump on the national trend toward re-urbanization.

    "If the city of Tampa is ever going to change its image as sort of a big, back-office market, it's going to happen in downtown,'' said Larry Feldman, whose Feldman Equities is co-owner of the Wells Fargo Center on South Ashley Drive. ...

    An artist’s rendering shows what the southern end of downtown Tampa will look like when Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s new project is complete around Amalie Arena.
  4. Universal Health Care trustee trying to recoup payouts

    Banking

    Before Universal Health Care declared bankruptcy last year, it spent more than $1 million on personal expenses of founder Dr. Akshay Desai including charitable donations and political contributions.

    Now recipients of that largesse are "potential targets" of a bankruptcy trustee seeking to recoup at least some of the money, according to a recent filing in federal bankruptcy court in Tampa....

  5. Bayfront Tower condos in St. Petersburg without water after pipe break

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Residents of Bayfront Tower condominiums were without running water in their units Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours after an aging underground pipe sprung a leak.

    Steven Leavitt, director of the city of St. Petersburg Water Resources Department, said the leak was in the building's internal plumbing and did not involve any city pipes.

    "The last I heard, they were still trying to locate it," he said at 3 p.m. Tuesday, referring to the leak. ...

    Residents of Bayfront Tower condominiums were without running water Tuesday after an underground pipe broke. Built in 1975, the tower at 1 Beach Drive SE is downtown St. Petersburg’s oldest condo tower and, with about 250 units, one of its largest.
  6. Think selling a home is hard? Try a church, or a bowling alley

    Real Estate

    Real estate broker James Parker is trying to sell a house with some unusual features. There's a pulpit. And an altar. And a room big enough to seat a congregation.

    In fact, it does seat a congregation — the 300 members of the Union Street Methodist Church, a Clearwater house of worship that is on the market for $1.68 million.

    "We do a lot to help the community, but that costs money and it's hard to do that and maintain a large campus,'' Pastor Nancy Mayeux said. "The church is the people, not the building, so we're going to sell the church and use the proceeds to continue to be missional.'' ...

    Union Street Methodist Church Pastor Nancy Mayeux, left, and real estate agent James Parker stand in front of the church’s sanctuary in Clearwater. The property has drawn interest from such entities as charter schools, Parker said, but so far there have been 
no buyers.
  7. Residents forced out of Tampa luxury condo tower after sprinkler flood

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Hurricane season is over but residents of one luxury Tampa condo tower have been flooded out of their homes — by a broken sprinkler system.

    Thousands of gallons of water cascaded down stairwells and poured through light fixtures of the Stovall on Bayshore Boulevard on Nov. 4 when a worker, about to fall off scaffolding, broke a sprinkler pipe that he had grabbed to steady himself. ...

    Thousands of gallons of water cascaded down stairwells and poured through light fixtures of The Stovall on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa in November when a worker, about to fall off scaffolding, broke a sprinkler pipe that he had grabbed to steady himself. [Times files]
  8. Mercy Foundation Group raises money for charities — and red flags

    Real Estate

    It seems like a win-win:

    A company stuck with a shuttered factory or a vacant office building gets a big tax deduction for selling at a bargain price to a nonprofit. The nonprofit fixes up the property and leases or resells it, raising money for charity.

    Tampa-based Mercy Foundation Group has used that model to acquire 40 properties around the nation and to make micro-loans to poor people across the globe. ...

    This 193,000-square-foot Wisconsin building was acquired by Mercy, which raises money for micro loans by buying and selling distressed properties.
  9. Fashion designer Michael Kors building home on Longboat Key

    Real Estate

    LONGBOAT KEY — There are Michael Kors stores in Tampa, Ellenton and Sarasota.

    Now west-central Florida is getting a Michael Kors house.

    One of the world's best-known fashion designers, Kors is building a 6,306-square-foot home on the Gulf of Mexico at the north end of Longboat Key in Manatee County. Just a mile from the bridge to Anna Maria Island, the two-story contemporary house will feature mahogany "privacy panels," retractable insect screens and a pool measuring 70 feet by 20 feet....

    Michael Kors, 55, and his husband plan spacious quarters for staff in the 6,306-square-foot home.
  10. Downtown St. Petersburg office tower acquired, will get renovation

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — At its groundbreaking in the early 1980s, the new office tower at 360 Central Ave. was hailed as a turnaround for what everyone conceded was a dead downtown.

    Three decades later, downtown is booming and what began as the Florida Federal Savings & Loan tower is getting new owners and a $10 million facelift.

    In a vote of confidence in downtown's resurgence, Larry Feldman announced this week that a joint venture of his Feldman Equities and two other companies has acquired the 17-story, 250,000-square-foot building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street....

    The 17-story First Central Tower, shown being struck by lightning in 2012, was hailed as the start of a turnaround for the sleepy city center when it opened in the early 1980s. Now it is part of a resurgent and bustling downtown scene.
  11. Tampa Bay single-family home sales jumped 21 percent in October

    Real Estate

    Whether due to pent-up demand or just crisp fall weather, sales of single-family homes jumped 21 percent in October in the Tampa Bay area.

    That's by far the biggest percentage gain in three months and especially impressive for one of the traditionally quieter periods in residential real estate.

    "We had an awesome October,'' Bonnie Davis, managing broker of Re/Max Metro, said Thursday. "We just did not see a slowdown at all.''...

    Home sales rose 21 percent across the bay area in October, with Pinellas up 30 percent and Hillsborough up 12.
  12. Convicted robber who took over Venetian Isles home arrested

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — One thing you can say about Patrick "Pastor" Banks — he shows up for court.

    That proved his downfall, however, when he was arrested inside a Pinellas County courtroom Thursday on fraud charges stemming from his recent takeover of a $700,000 bayfront Venetian Isles home and another house for which he was collecting rent.

    Banks had gone to court that morning for a pretrail hearing on an unrelated fraud charge from 2013. Expecting he would be there, St. Petersburg police Detective Nancy Pillucere was in the courtroom, too. She arrested Banks on the new charges after the hearing, during which he claimed he had no assets and couldn't afford an attorney....

    Patrick “Pastor’’ Banks was telling people he bought this long-vacant Venetian Isles home and was planning to move in after renovations.
  13. Police investigating multiple complaints about convicted robber who took over bayfront home

    Real Estate

    St. Petersburg police said Friday they are investigating "multiple incidents'' involving convicted felon Patrick Jay Banks, a day after a Tampa Bay Times story tied him to a suspicious land deal on a bayfront home in Venetian Isles.

    "Our economic crimes unit is looking into his activity,'' police spokesman Michael Puetz said Friday.

    Police were unaware of the Venetian Isles case before the story appeared, Puetz said, but already were investigating "similar complaints'' involving other transactions....

    Banks claims that he is in control of about 18 homes, according to one of his tenants.
  14. Tampa Bay home sales up, but prices plunge

    Real Estate

    Sales of single-family homes in the Tampa Bay area rose in the three months ended in September, but don't go looking to take the Grand Tour of Europe on the proceeds.

    Of the state's 20 metropolitan statistical areas, only three had a lower median sales price than Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, the trade group Florida Realtors reported Thursday.

    While Tampa Bay sales rose 4.4 percent over the same period a year ago, the median price of $145,000 was 9.3 percent lower....

  15. Convicted robber and forger takes over Venetian Isles bayfront home

    Real Estate

    To neighbors, it seemed odd that the bayfront home in St. Petersburg's upscale Venetian Isles had been vacant for more than two years.

    But that was nothing compared to a series of peculiar real estate transactions that began Aug. 23.

    That's when the owners, a married couple, deeded the house to a company called B.I.G — Believe in God — Real Estate Holdings.

    On Sept. 15, it deeded the house to Famous Properties Inc. of St. Petersburg. The same day, a man named P. Jay Banks got power of attorney to handle all matters involving the 2,500-square-foot home. ...

    Patrick Jay Banks, 50, recently obtained power of attorney to handle all matters related to a bayfront home worth nearly $1 million in St. Petersburg’s  Venetian Isles community. Banks, a convicted robber and forger, is awaiting trail on felony fraud charges stemming from a halfway house venture he once was involved with.