TAMPA — Wellswood is one of the those Tampa neighborhoods that even some people in Tampa have never heard of. Yet that hasn’t stopped a 30-year-old Miami investor from sinking more than $60 million into it, with more likely to come.
Jakub Hejl’s Westside Capital Group closed last week on the $29.5 million purchase of Watermans Crossing Apartments, a 337-unit community on North Rome Avenue. Last year, the company paid $21.25 million for the Buena Vista apartments on North Armenia Avenue less than a mile away.
Both are in Wellswood, a working- to middle-class area bounded by Hillsborough Avenue to the north, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the south, the Hillsborough River to the east and Armenia Avenue to the west. Also in or relatively close to Wellswood are St. Joseph’s Children Hospital, numerous medical facilities, Tampa Catholic High School and Raymond James Stadium. Downtown Tampa is 10 minutes in one direction and Tampa International Airport is 10 minutes in the other.
"When we evaluated all these drivers, we determined it to be a very attractive neighborhood from a general standpoint,'' Hejl said Tuesday in phone interview. "Then we started looking for opportunities. Many times we like to focus on areas that others are not focusing on in terms of really transforming the area.''
Hejl was born in the Czech Republic, but moved to the United States at 15 to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton. It was while playing basketball and studying there that he became familiar with the Tampa Bay area.
From IMG, Hejl went on to the University of Miami where he was one of the first undergraduates to major in real estate. He started his career in New York with a large private equity firm, then joined a similar firm in London.
In 2016, Hejl launched his own company, which draws its name — Westside — from meetings he held on Manhattan’s upper west side with investors that provided seed money. In the three years since, Westside has amassed a portfolio worth approximately $150 million.
After buying the 240-unit Buena Vista, Hejl’s company made $5 million in improvements that have sparked other changes in the Wellswood area. New houses are going up on one side, and ground was broken for a medical office on the other. Nearby, Bank of Tampa demolished its old headquarters and is building a new one set to open next summer.
"We were in the forefront with the first investment so we began working on another investment,'' Hejl said, referring to Watermans Crossing. That proved more complicated because of various restrictions on the property. Those were overcome and up to 72 more units potentially could be added.
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After $5 million in upgrades, Watermans will be renamed Westshore Crossing. "We think the transformation of the property will be significant and we want to fuel it by disconnecting from the previous name and the previous reputation,'' he said.
Rents will go up, but Hejl said "the focal point of the investment isn’t the growth of rents but rather the improvement of the property.''
Berkadia, a commercial real estate firm, arranged financing for the two apartment communities. "Every deal has its challenges, but most lenders saw the opportunity of the (Wellswood) market and the strength and creativity of the sponsor,'' said Charles J. Foschini, senior managing director of Berkadia’s Miami office.
Hejl is pursuing another investment in Tampa while looking at other bay area neighborhoods. That’s all he would say: "You don’t want to give too much away, or the price would double.''