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Business letters: Joel Cantor responds to Times articles about Signature Place

Joel Cantor, left, the man behind St. Petersburg condo tower Signature Place, refutes the implication that he is to blame for its problems.
Joel Cantor, left, the man behind St. Petersburg condo tower Signature Place, refutes the implication that he is to blame for its problems.
Published Aug. 28, 2015

Signature Place | Aug. 26

Cantor responds to Times reports

I am writing to respond to recent Tampa Bay Times articles about my Signature Place project.

In 1999, I took a big risk and purchased the vacant William Cramer federal building. Very little real estate activity was occurring at the time in downtown St. Petersburg. In 2003, I announced plans to bring one of the world's most regarded architects to design Signature Place. This idea captured the imagination of St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay. I spent five years and $154 million bringing this vision to fruition. The building turned out to be an amazing and ethereal property for which I am extremely proud.

I do not believe I fit the mode of a hustling boom town Florida real estate developer that the Times' articles seem to convey. I hired the best architects in the country and in Florida to design and oversee the project. I interviewed many contractors looking for not only the largest and most experienced contractor, but one that I believe could insure that Ralph Johnson's plans were built right. It is understandable that problems will crop up after the building was completed, and we made provisions to address these with a very well regarded insurer. The question that the Times' articles raise surround the magnitude of these issues and if there was negligence involved by myself or others as the property was constructed. The homeowners association has retained counsel to address these issues with the builder and its insurer, and this is the nature of the lawsuits that have been filed. At best, it is premature for the Times to weigh in as judge and jury and paint the property and all the work with the broad brush of a negligent real estate developer. The parties who are resolving these issues are the builder's insurance company and the homeowners association, which is how the project conceived to handle issues that arise during construction.

Finally, during the 2008 recession, this project was one of the only large condominium projects that did not file bankruptcy during the financial crisis, and I fought hard for buyers who placed deposits at higher, pre-recession prices to receive price reductions against the wishes of my lenders who wanted the buyers to pay full price and not acknowledge the financial crisis realities. As a result, 93 percent of my buyers closed on their units, and I am confident saying that 100 percent have witnessed their values almost doubling. Compare this with Trump Tower Tampa that never got built and to this day several buyers are still litigating to receive their deposits back.

Finally, I fail to see the reason why the Times would weave the past legal issues solely related to my father and sibling into the most recent article about Signature Place. This was 22 years ago and had nothing to do with me, nor in the creation of this project. It appears to me that this inclusion is a mean-spirited inclusion intended to perpetuate this negative narrative. The Times is better than this. The story is about Signature Place, and I can only imagine that the stories from these lawsuits are relevant because of the attention that the building gets in Tampa Bay.

For the record, I have not been contacted by the homeowners association or the insurance company, but I have offered to assist any party to help resolve outstanding issues. I am also an owner and a member of the homeowners association. The article references litigation related to a large real estate transaction by a buyer that did not get approved by my lender to assume the existing mortgages for technical reasons that both parties are currently working to resolve so the buyer can be approved and close on the sale. This happens in our business, and I offered to return the buyer's deposit if they again fail to get approved by my lender. I've had a very clean business career and most of my investors, partners and sellers can attest to this. I simply don't fit this picture that you are attempting to draw in your articles.

Signature Place is the most stunning building on the west coast of Florida and won the best building award by the prestigious American Institute of Architects. It is not just another cookie-cutter condo tower. I am intensely proud of it and the way in which I handled a very difficult time in the real estate business during the 2008 financial crisis. I will continue to offer to cooperate with the homeowners of Signature Place to help resolve these issues.

Joel Cantor, Telluride, Colo.