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Signature Place condo owners sue over repairs to correct building problems

Signature Place has construction and design flaws, condo owners say.
Signature Place has construction and design flaws, condo owners say.
Published Oct. 14, 2014

At 36 stories, Signature Place is St. Petersburg's tallest condominium tower and one of its most striking.

It's also a building riddled with dozens of construction and design defects, according to a new lawsuit.

The Signature Place Condominium Association says it is spending "large sums'' of money to repair problems ranging from cracks in exterior walls to improper fire wall installation to excessive noise from air-conditioning and heating systems.

At least some of the alleged defects were hidden by building components and finishes and thus were not discovered by owners "until after the purchase and occupancy of the unit,'' said the lawsuit, filed last week in Pinellas County Circuit Court.

Signature Place, at 175 First Street S, was announced in 2005 at the peak of the real estate boom and neared completion just as the market collapsed in 2008. Plagued by slow sales, developer Joel Cantor had to slash prices and finally resorted to an auction to unload dozens of the tower's 244 units.

Prices, though, have recently rebounded in St. Petersburg's hot downtown condo market.

Listed as defendants in the suit are Cantor's Gulf Atlantic Communities, which is no longer active according to Florida corporate records, Lend Lease (US) Construction, TLC Engineering and the architecture firm Perkins & Will.

Cantor could not be reached, and Lend Lease said it does not comment on pending lawsuits. The other defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

Among Signature Place's striking features are a six-story waterfall, said to be the world's largest man-made waterfall, and a three-story penthouse known as Glasshouse for its floor-to-ceiling windows.

In possible reference to Glasshouse, exhibits filed with the lawsuit cite "improper construction of the penthouse unit allowing excessive noise from cooling tower.''

Glasshouse is currently on the market for $2.599 million

The suit, which seeks damages in excess of $15,000, cites more than 100 other alleged construction and design defects including:

• Cracked and improperly applied stucco in "large areas'' of the exterior walls, which has allowed water to leak into the interior.

• Improper installation of "back-to-back" plumbing in the walls separating units.

• Tenant separation walls in many bedrooms and living rooms that tested below the "specified Sound Transmission Class rating,'' meaning the walls are thin enough that owners can hear people in other units.

• Improper installation of driveway pavers and doors on an "amenity'' deck.

• Failure to install access panels to electrical equipment for jacuzzi tubs in the condo units.

The suit says Signature Place owners are being assessed to pay for repairs though the amount was not disclosed.

If the allegations are true, Signature Place is not the only condo tower in downtown St. Petersburg plagued with construction and design issues.

A decade ago, a rancorous debate over the high cost of repairing deteriorating outer walls at the Bayfront Tower led to the abrupt turnover of the condo association board. The 255-unit, 1970s-era building, home of former governor and current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, is currently undergoing a $10 million renovation.

Developers of the Cloisters, a condo tower a few blocks farther north on Beach Drive, had to deal with leaking windows, faulty plumbing and a storm-sewer backup that flooded the lobby as the building neared completion in 1999.

Signature Place received unwelcome attention in July when the Tampa Bay Times reported that police had responded to numerous calls from and about one condo owner who walked naked in the halls and had been involved in drunken brawls. The man recently put his unit up for sale.

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate