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  1. Business

St. Petersburg real estate investor corners a speculative market

An apartment house owned by Samuel Boutros sits at Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue S in St. Petersburg while construction hums around it. Developers didn’t offer him the right price for the property, so he says he’ll keep it and collect the rental income for now.

ST. PETERSBURG — The 103-year-old faded yellow house sits defiantly on the corner of Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue S while construction workers, cranes and concrete mixers hum all around it. The Harbour's Edge and Urban Landings apartments are rising on most of the block within inches of the house.

It's reminiscent of Pixar's movie Up, in which a stubborn senior citizen refuses to sell his home as a concrete city grows around it. He ultimately ties helium balloons to the roof and floats away.

But in this real-life scenario it's not a sentimental curmudgeon boycotting progress, but a 28-year-old who's counting on it. Real estate investor Samuel Boutros bought the house, which is subdivided into four apartments, for $130,000 in 2011.

"One of the reasons that property was appealing to me was the fact that it was a holdout piece," he said. "The theory is you own the corner, you own the block, with the focus being on the short term."

But when Atlantic Housing Partners, the apartment developer, made an offer to buy the house it was only a "few thousand" more than what Boutros paid, he said.

"We approached the owner of the house on the outparcel adjacent to our apartment community but were not able to come to an agreement on a purchase price that was mutually acceptable," said Scott Culp, a principal with Winter Park-based Atlantic Housing.

So Boutros opted to keep it and collect the rental income instead of flip for a small profit.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying something they couldn't really afford to hold on to, thinking the only real gain is flipping it,'' he said. "My focus is a balance of two thoughts. It needs to more or less make me money now, in the short term, and if I can flip it in the long term, the flipping is sort of the icing on the cake."

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Boutros learned this rule, that real estate investments should have cash flow, from his father, who invested in properties in Orlando. When his father died in 2010, Boutros graduated from law school and invested some of his inheritance in St. Petersburg real estate.

"I purchased a lot of corners in Grand Central with the long-term hope that they will end up being a holdout piece," he said. "Obviously development is going to start moving south and west" of the center of downtown.

He owns the 39,000-square-foot historic Kress building at 475 Central Ave. After Margarita Mama's came and went recently, two new tenants are arriving and opening before the end of the year.

Moscato's Bella Cucina is moving there from 449 Central to have room for 150 tables and special events.

And Nouvelle Beauty Bar will offer manicures, pedicures, wine, champagne and mimosas. Beyond that, it will also have a "blow bar" where women can get their hair washed (with a head massage) and then blow-dried and styled.

"No cuts or color, just styling if you are going out to a nice dinner or a special event," said owner Thuy Le. The service will cost about $35 and include a drink.

Le, who owns the Vietnamese restaurant La V three doors down at 441 Central, is having white crocodile leather pedicure stations custom-made for the spa.

"It's going to be all white with a touch of gray," she said.

Boutros expects the new tenants, who have already proven themselves, to fare much better than Margarita Mama's.

"That was a poorly done buildout and a poor concept,'' he said. "I was not upset or sad to see it close."

But that flashy restaurant was one of the few businesses that even considered leasing the historic building in 2011. This time he showed the property to more than 40 prospective tenants.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at or (727) 893-8785.