In February 2021, Ybor City real estate investor Darryl Shaw and his partners paid $28.5 million for most of the old Tampa Park Apartments site in Ybor City, where they plan to build a mixed-use complex with hundreds of residences.
More than a year later, that sale is at the center of a lawsuit among the land’s former owners.
The property was owned and sold by a subsidized housing nonprofit called Tampa Park Apartments Inc., which since the 1960s has been jointly operated by two other nonprofits: The Grand Assembly of the Lily White Security Benefit Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1402.
On Thursday, the union filed a lawsuit against Lily White in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, alleging Lily White brokered the deal with Shaw without the union’s input. The suit asks that money from the sale be placed in a trust, and for a full accounting of whatever has been spent thus far.
“There’s been no accounting for that, and certainly, the union got none of it,” said Isaac Ruiz-Carus, an attorney for the union.
The suit does not argue any impropriety on Shaw’s part; Ruiz-Carus called him “a bona fide purchaser of value.” But it could affect Shaw’s overall redevelopment plans, which include a 50-acre mixed-use development dubbed Gas Worx across the street.
The suit states that Shaw’s plans for a mixed-use development and potential new Tampa Bay Rays stadium run counter to the nonprofit’s mission of providing affordable housing, which should have been a factor in Lily White’s decision to sell.
The nonprofit still owns a 3-acre commercial plot adjacent to Shaw’s land. The suit indicates a push for the union — which Ruiz-Carus said has been minimally involved in the nonprofit for several years, despite its co-stewardship of the land — to reassert its rights and have say over whether and to whom that land is eventually sold.
“There’s all these proceeds, and there isn’t a mission to be fulfilled as far as Tampa Park goes, other than they still have this commercial piece,” Ruiz-Carus said. “The question becomes, what do you do with it?”
Through a spokesperson, Shaw declined to comment on Friday.
Sybil Kay Andrews Wells is the president of Lily White and chairperson of Tampa Park Apartments Inc., according to state documents. Wells is the publisher of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper and the granddaughter of C. Blythe Andrews, founder of Lily White, which provided health care, funeral benefits and other services for Black members.
A message to Wells at the Florida Sentinel Bulletin was not returned Friday. Malcolm Cunningham Jr., a West Palm Beach attorney who has represented Lily White and Tampa Park Apartments, declined to comment Friday afternoon, saying he had not seen the lawsuit.
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This isn’t the first time the property has been at the center of a lawsuit involving unaccounted-for funds. In 2014, Tampa Park Apartments sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over an escrow account into which it had paid millions to cover loans used to build the apartments. The suit alleged the agency lost track of the money. The agency countersued, arguing that the nonprofit was looking to get out of its debts in order to sell the land to developers of a new Rays stadium. The cases were settled in 2018.
Ruiz-Carus said the money from the sale to Shaw should benefit the same causes outlined in the nonprofit’s 1966 articles of incorporation.
“The money has to go to either other nonprofits or to charities that are identified,” he said. “You don’t just get to keep it and turn it into individual gain or some sort of a profit.”