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Equialt plans to bulldoze, replace some rundown Davis Islands rentals

Brian Davison, left, and Tony Kelly of Equialt now own a four-unit rental home at 128 E Davis Blvd on Davis Islands, part of its multimillion dollar portfolio of multifamily rentals on the islands.
Brian Davison, left, and Tony Kelly of Equialt now own a four-unit rental home at 128 E Davis Blvd on Davis Islands, part of its multimillion dollar portfolio of multifamily rentals on the islands.
Published Mar. 10, 2017

DAVIS ISLANDS — There are weeds growing out of the overhang above the front door. An upstairs window is left open. The gutters are covered with streaks of black dirt.

The green, grime-covered house has been vacant for months, but seemingly neglected for years.

Yet there it is on Davis Islands, the community of about 5,500 people just across the water from downtown Tampa — and on Davis Boulevard even, the main drag with bars, restaurants, cafes and small shops. Davis Islands is home to Tampa General Hospital doctors, lawyers, Derek Jeter and for one glorious stint in 2016, Beyoncé.

The median price of a single-family home sold on the island during the last six months approached $1 million.

But many of the smaller rental units remain in poor shape. So one island resident, Brian Davison, collected $4.5 million from investors on the West Coast and bought six multifamily homes —at 64 and 128 E Davis Boulevard, three in the 200 block of Columbia Drive and one on Danube Avenue.

His company, Equialt, will bulldoze, replace and rent out the Davis properties as one- and two-bedroom "modern Key West"-style units of roughly the same size as the current ones. The other properties will be renovated.

"All the development has stayed out of the center of the islands," Davison said. His company has been operating in the area for several years, buying hundreds of Tampa Bay homes, townhomes and condos at auction after people failed to pay taxes on them.

A community where everyone seems to know each other, Davis Islands has seen local opposition to new developments, especially zoning adjustments.

"Some people are dead-opposed to anybody doing anything," said homeowner Stephen Stanley, former president of the Davis Island Civic Association and still an active member. Stanley agreed with Davison that some smaller multifamily rental houses have fallen into disrepair but said he would oppose replacing them with larger buildings.

"There's already a lot of traffic now compared to where it was," Stanley said. "If they're not doing more units and they're doing bigger units they may want to go higher so you've got an issue in height, making it more of a canyon effect. The charm of (Davis Islands) isn't high-rise."

The company has no renderings of what the new construction will look like, Davison said. Current tenants may be offered buyouts or will remain through their lease terms.

Asked if this would price some lower-income families off the island, he said the units will still be affordable.

"We're capped by the market," he said, with an average rent of $1,200 to $1,400. Units in some of the older buildings are renting for closer to $900 for a one-bedroom but they lack central air, washer and dryer units.

"The tenants deserve better," said senior portfolio manager Tony Kelly. Still, Kelly said, Equialt has "no intention of creating $2,000 or $2,500 rentals."

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Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.