Water Street Tampa partners facing $30M in disputes over unpaid construction, labor

Most liens were placed on the JW Marriott, a new upscale hotel near Amalie Arena.
A view of downtownt Tampa's JW Marriott just before its opening on Dec. 18, 2020.
A view of downtownt Tampa's JW Marriott just before its opening on Dec. 18, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published March 31, 2021|Updated March 31, 2021

Development teams behind Water Street Tampa are facing at least 20 liens and disputes on buildings in their growing downtown mini-city, all for unpaid construction and labor contracts within the past year.

The groups, including builders and limited liability corporations tied to developers and land owners, owe more than $30.1 million in unpaid construction and labor costs, according to lien documents filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk’s office within the past year.

The debts come from $427 million in contracts for services including roofing, masonry, water sprinklers and window cleaning across five properties. In at least eight cases, property owners have transferred the liens to surety bonds — a way to ensure disputes can be resolved without risking the property as collateral — but the debts remain outstanding.

The bulk of the liens were placed on the new JW Marriott, a high-end hotel that opened in December at 510 Water Street. According to the lien documents, development teams have yet to pay $29.1 million on 16 contracts and subcontracts worth a total of $348.7 million. Seven of those liens, worth $7.1 million, have been transferred to surety bonds, which protects the property but does not resolve the payment dispute.

Related: Tampa's JW Marriott opens Monday; here's a first look inside

The JW Marriott liens were all filed by lead builder Coastal Construction or a Coastal subcontractor. Through a spokesman, Coastal declined to comment on the liens. But speaking at a groundbreaking for another project Tuesday in St. Petersburg, the company’s Central Florida president Craig Klingensmith said their Tampa Bay work has generally gone smoothly.

“It sounds maybe like a coined answer, but it’s been great,” he said. “Mayor Castor, Mayor Kriseman, they’re very supportive of the development. Their departments, their people there help us out anytime they can. So honestly it’s just been really great.”

Other Water Street Tampa properties facing action:

  • An apartment tower at 1010 Water Street is facing a lien over $77,421.82 in unpaid costs to a manufacturer of precast concrete stairs.
  • Heron, an apartment tower located at 850 Water Street, is facing a lien over $69,103.60 in unpaid window cleaning services.
  • A window company working on a residential tower at 1077 Water Street is seeking $47,131 in unpaid costs.
  • A parcel between the JW Marriott and Amalie Arena is facing an $811,946.94 lien over unpaid costs related to elevator and escalator systems.

In Florida, construction liens must be filed within 90 days of completed work. The Water Street team has satisfied several other liens against its properties, including the JW Marriott, since mid-2019.

Durlach Industries of Palmetto has provided stairs for several Water Street properties, including the JW Marriott, but payments “got slower towards the end,” said vice president Kristina Durlach. They filed a lien for $77,421.82 on 1010 Water Street — one of the few liens they’ve had to place on a property in the last 20 years, she said.

“We’ve been waiting for our bills to get paid,” she said. “We want to get paid for our work. That’s only fair.”

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Related: Water Street Tampa developer announces layoffs, new job for CEO

The $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development of hotels, residences, retail, office and research space is backed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, a group led in part by Bill Gates.

Vinik belongs to a team of local investors that has loaned $15 million to the Times Publishing Company, which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Spokespeople for lead Water Street developers Strategic Property Partners did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Water Street Tampa is a sprawling project, so the fact that it’s facing multiple liens is not necessarily surprising, said Gregg Hutt, who specializes in construction litigation at Trenam Law in Tampa.

“Construction disputes over payment and performance are very common on these kind of big, complicated projects, and liens themselves are not uncommon,” Hutt said. “There could be lots of reasons. It’s hard to say whether it’s right or wrong. Given the nature of this pandemic, who knows what was driving the payment and performance issues.”

The number of liens involving the JW Marriott, he said, is more complicated.

“Sixteen liens on a project? It’s clear there is an issue,” he said. “Exactly what the issue is, you can’t really be sure without looking at it in more detail.”

Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.