TAMPA ― Historic preservationists have not been happy with Michael Hettrich’s work on West Tampa’s 116-year-old Santaella Cigar Factory.
They claim his vision, which includes painting its yellow bricks white, would destroy the historic fabric of the building.
Now, it appears Hettrich, a 53-year-old resident of Sarasota, might be out of the factory’s ownership group.
Hettrich is taking his former partners to court and demanding they pay what he says he is owed.
According to Hettrich’s civil lawsuit filed earlier this month with the Pinellas County Sixth Judicial Circuit, factory owners Phil Farley and Henry Bentley promised him a 20 percent “non-voting” interest in the Santaella, the Y. Pendas y Alvarez Cigar Factory also in West Tampa, and a Palmetto home if, for two years, he remained their employee providing “construction and property management services related to remodeling, refurbishing and restoration of the properties.” The deal also included 20 percent of the annual profits from those ventures, the lawsuit says.
The agreement, included in the public court file, was signed in 2018.
Hettrich alleges Farley, a 56-year-old St. Petersburg resident, and Bentley, a 72-year-old resident of North Redington Beach, are reneging on the deal. He is suing for breach of contract.
According to the complaint, he “seeks a formal and accurate 2020 fiscal year-end accounting and payment of his 2020 (and future) compensation and distributions owed to him by the defendants.”
Hettrich declined comment.
The Tampa Bay Times left two voicemails at a number associated with Farley and Bentley. The messages were not returned. Voicemail did not identify the number’s owner.
In 2018, the ownership group purchased the Santaella at 1906 N. Armenia Ave. for $3.2 million. A year later, for $3.6 million, the group purchased the 112-year-old Pendas factory. Located at 2301 N Albany Ave., its clock tower, which is currently inoperable, is believed to be the oldest in the city.
The Santaella had previously been used as artist lofts. Hettrich promised to remodel the 58,000-square-foot building, allow the artists to remain and add a microbrewery and cafe. Plans for the 60,000-square-foot Pendas factory were never announced.
The Santaella’s white paint job is incomplete. The Times did not see active construction at the site on Monday morning. The Times knocked on the factory’s door, but a tenant who would not identify himself declined to allow the Times inside or answer questions. A sign outside says the building is for lease via Retail Solutions Advisors.
There is no sign outside the Pendas factory, but it is listed as for lease on Retail Solutions Advisor’s website.
Both Hettrich and Farley have a history of code violations.
In January 2019, the city ordered construction stopped on the Santaella project until they obtained proper permits.
Hettrich’s Artisan Group in Cook County, Illinois, was once ordered to pay a client nearly $424,000 over fraudulent construction services.
And Farley once pleaded guilty to negligently causing the release of asbestos in the development of St. Petersburg’s Urban Style Flats apartments.
Preservationists lauded the work Hettrich was doing to the Santaella’s interior but were angered in July 2019 when construction crews began painting the brick factory’s exterior white. They believe the building is historic and that its exterior should not be modernized.
To prevent something like that from happening again, Tampa City Council then discussed whether they should force local historic designation onto all cigar factories, a label that prevents modernizing exteriors. That has not happened.
Of the 200 or so factories that operated in Tampa’s heyday as cigar capital, the late 1800s through mid-1900s, only about two dozen remain. Half carry historic protection. Neither the Santaella nor Pendas factories are among those.