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St. Petersburg City Council scuttles 2-acre development project

Deveron Gibbons
Published Sep. 5, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — An ambitious plan to build a gas station, convenience store, soul food restaurant and medical services building near Perkins Elementary School appears to have met its demise.

City Council members have decided against giving former mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons and his childhood friend and business partner, Doug Cobarras, a third chance to get the project off the ground.

Council member Gina Driscoll dashed their hopes on Aug. 23, when she got support for a motion to terminate their contract with the city for failing to submit proof of financing and meet deadlines.

"I'm sure there has been a good faith effort, but we've made a good faith effort to be patient and almost four years later, we still don't have any development on a very important piece of property in Midtown," she scolded.

"So, as much as I would love to believe that this can be a successful project, it seems that we have run into so many stalls, so many delays, that I'm thinking this project wasn't meant to be."

She said it was time for the city to cut its losses.

Gibbons, an executive with Amscot Financial and a St. Petersburg College trustee, later told the Tampa Bay Times that he and his business partner will review their options.

It was in December 2014 that his company, TLM Investment Group 1, signed a contract to lease and develop city-owned property at 2100 18th Ave. S. The firm asked for an extension to the agreement in June 2017. Council members set a Jan. 31, 2018, deadline to secure financing and a May 1 deadline to begin construction. The agreement also stipulated that the development was to be open for business by the end of this year.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg's Midtown to get gas station, convenience store and soul food restaurant

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Deveron Gibbons' promise of 20 jobs in jeopardy as development plans languish

Countering Driscoll's motion, Council member Charlie Gerdes proposed one of his own in an attempt to salvage the project that Gibbons promised would bring at least 20 jobs to one of the city's most disadvantaged communities.

"I do think this particular project is unique in the sense that no lender was going to lend money on that property while two major grocery stores were pulling out," he said, referring to the failed Tangerine Plaza shopping center across the street from the TLM project.

"I share the frustration," Council member Ed Montanari said, "but I am glad we have people who want to invest in this property and I want to be respectful of the investment that has been made." Montanari supported Gerdes' recommendation for a new construction start date of Oct. 15.

But Council chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, whose district includes the 2-acre site, was unsympathetic.

"Let's just be clear about this. The reason the residents in the Midtown and Childs Park area don't believe the city is doing anything for them is because they don't see anything going up, nothing visible. ... We have so many people that have leases or whatever on lots and they are just holding them for hostage," she said.

"We have given them ample amount of time to complete this project."

The council's decision followed a July 13 letter sent by Alan DeLisle, the city's development administrator, to TLM saying the company was in violation of their agreement.

Montanari wondered about other options for the site.

"We definitely get calls and inquiries about that particular location ... on a regular basis," DeLisle told the Times.

The city recently received six proposals to redevelop neighboring Tangerine Plaza, but other offers weren't made because the TLM site hadn't been available, both Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and DeLisle said.

It's unclear what happens next.

DeLisle told council members that the city would probably put out another Request for Proposals.

"Council made it clear where they stood," he said during an interview. "It's just a matter of moving forward with finalizing the default provisions. From our perspective, we issued the default notice because they clearly were not under construction and they had not secured the proper insurance required by the contract."

Days before the council meeting, however, TLM's lawyer Howard P. Ross sent an email to the city saying that he was attaching several required documents. They were a Southwest Florida Water Management District permit, proof of insurance coverage, a building permit application, agreements with the development's three tenants and financing that had been approved by the city in February.

DeLilse told the council, though, that TLM had provided no proof of financing, a cause of contention between the two sides that Ross sought to downplay.

"We would like to agree to a third amendment and then go forward," he said.

TLM consultant Angelo Cappelli said Gibbons and Cobarras, whom he identified as two African-American businessmen, had already spent $80,000 on "soft costs" on the project. The men were pursuing it "out of pure love" for St. Petersburg and the Midtown area, where they had grown up, he said.

"We need a little bit more time," Cappelli said.

But it had apparently run out.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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