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Signature Place developer: Don't blame me for $8.7 million repair bill

ST. PETERSBURG — Joel Cantor, developer of St. Petersburg's Signature Place condo tower, denies any blame for the building's construction problems and says the $8.7 million repair bill should be paid by the architect, builder, insurers and the city of St. Petersburg.

In a letter Thursday to Signature Place owners, Cantor also said he recalls dropping off a nearly $1 million check to the city's building department to ensure the 36-story tower "was built to specifications."

"That's a big check for many inspections,'' he said in the letter, which his company also emailed to the Tampa Bay Times.

The letter came the same day the Times reported that owners are being assessed as much as $132,000 each to correct dozens of alleged design and construction flaws in the 6-year-old building. Among them are "missing or improperly installed" rebar, as well as stucco that could fly off in high winds.

The Signature Place Condominium Association has a pending lawsuit against Cantor's Gulf Atlantic Communities, Lend Lease US Construction (formerly Bovis), a Chicago architectural firm and an engineering company.

But in his letter, Cantor shifts responsibility for any problems away from himself and squarely onto Bovis, the architect and the city.

"I thought this was a good time to explain what steps I took to ensure that Signature Place was built not only to code but above the required standards," Cantor said in his letter, which calls the condo tower "my baby, which I put my heart, soul and life's work into."

Cantor said his development group paid Bovis — a major international firm — nearly $500,000 for a "construction forensic consultancy" to document every step of construction.

He said he paid Perkins + Will of Chicago, one of the world's largest architectural firms, $1.5 million-plus for "construction administration" and an on-site architect to ensure the tower was built according to plans.

And, he said, he recalls giving the city's building permit department a $986,000 check for a permit. "I met with the city many times and told them to work with my architect to ensure it was built to specifications," the letter said. "That's a big check for many inspections."

The Times story quoted Rick Dunn, the city's building official, as saying it was difficult for inspectors to check "every inch" of a building when they have so many inspection to do.

Dunn did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Cantor's letter did not mention the project's engineering firm or include it among those he said should have to pay for repairs. Dunn had told the Times that a project's owner — in this case, Cantor's company — is responsible for hiring a state-licensed engineer to inspect rebar and make the reports available to city officials.

Cantor could not be reached for comment. His Gulf Atlantic Communities is inactive, but is still listed as owner of what appears to be office space in Signature Place. In his letter, Cantor calls himself a "unit owner, too" and said he "stands willing to help the (condo) association in any way I can."

State corporate records show that he currently heads Cantor Fund Management, a St. Petersburg-based private equity real estate firm that specializes "in the acquisition and turnaround of high quality distressed and under-performing real estate assets,'' according to its website. Its holdings include medical office buildings and small shopping centers in Tampa, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Indiana, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina.

In 2012, Cantor sold his Tampa home, where he once hosted a fundraiser for first lady Michelle Obama, for $5.2 million, saying he wanted to spend more time at his home in Telluride, Colo., with his wife and four sons. At that time, he also owned a condo in St. Pete Beach.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampbay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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