ST. PETERSBURG — If you’ve gone to a concert at Jannus Live, you’ve seen the residents of the Hotel Detroit Condos watching from the building to the right of the stage. They dance on the stairs and boogie on the balconies.
From below, it looks like a pretty sweet spot to live: Sip on your own beers, use your own bathroom without waiting in line and enjoy free shows every week.
But the constant noise might not be for everyone. Janine Duffy, a renter who works an 8-to-5 human resources job, said the music is always with her, the bass rattling the jars in her pantry.
“I’m at the concert, whether I want to be or not,” said Duffy, 46. “The volume, even with all the windows and doors shut, is like someone having their stereo turned up pretty much to full volume.”
For someone like Duffy, who has always found city sounds and chaos exciting, living in the Hotel Detroit Condos is a dream. She has happily occupied her unit for eight years and too many concerts to count.
“Even if I’ve never heard of [the performer], more often than not, I’m pleasantly surprised,” she said.
Here’s the history behind the building — and what it takes to actually live there.
The beginning of the Detroit Hotel
The condo building at 215 Central Ave. isn’t just a sweet vantage point to watch a show at Jannus Live. It’s also one of the oldest buildings in St. Petersburg, said Manny Leto, executive director of Preserve the Burg.
First called the Detroit Hotel, the building was constructed in 1888 by St. Petersburg’s founders, Peter Demens and John C. Williams. The hotel was named in honor of Williams’ hometown, and decorated with a minaret to nod to Demens’ home country, Russia. (Demens also got to name the city.)
The 40-room hotel played an integral role in St. Petersburg’s downtown renaissance not once, but twice. It started as a safe haven for weary travelers on the newly built Orange Belt Railway. It was a key part of St. Pete’s historic First Block, a group of buildings clustered on Central Avenue and First Avenue, between Second and Third streets.
While the hotel was popular with out-of-town guests, it also became a community hub for the city’s nearly 300 permanent residents. Locals even threw a ball there in 1897 to celebrate the introduction of electricity in St. Petersburg.
But as the years passed, the city’s once-bustling First Block fell on hard times.
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Like many U.S. cities, Leto said, St. Petersburg experienced a mass migration out of downtown and into the suburbs following World War II.
“It’s hard to even think about it now, but during the early 1970s, there really was not a lot going on down there,” Leto said. “First Block was kind of a dead zone.”
Then in 1982, a new office and retail development called Jannus Landing came along. It was built in part using city and federal funds aimed at breathing new life into downtown.
“It’s a remarkable change considering that just a few years ago, drunks and vagrants slept in a dirty alley between rundown buildings,” read a 1982 editorial published in the then-St. Petersburg Times following the grand opening of the project. “The downtown needs a successful project to pull it out of the doldrums.”
The name was inspired by famed pilot Tony Jannus, the man behind numerous aviation firsts.
“His spirit of adventure and excitement lives on as the theme for a revitalized shopping district,” wrote the St. Petersburg Times in a special Jannus Landing-themed section. “Jannus Landing restores and captures a piece of history. ... It marks the first step of a successful commercial enterprise for downtown St. Petersburg.”
Opening weekend festivities included a free flight giveaway and model planes that nodded to Jannus himself, plus live performances that ranged from bluegrass and jazz bands to mimes and clowns.
Throughout the 1980s, the owners of the hotel started hosting concerts in the shared courtyard. Notable guests during that time included the Ramones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blue Oyster Cult and Iggy Pop. A musical tradition was born.
Not everyone welcomed the live music. Some of the businesses in Jannus Landing questioned whether the Detroit Hotel owners should be allowed to profit off the communal space.
Noise complaints from nearby condo dwellers prompted the city to establish restrictions on volume levels downtown. In 1989, the venue was hit with more than $13,000 in fines for violating that ordinance. The fines were dropped and the rules have been amended since, but the noise continues to be a sore point for some.
Life above Jannus Live
The Detroit Hotel closed in 1993. The building changed hands a few times but it remained vacant until 2002 when it reopened as condominiums.
“There is nothing in St. Pete that compares to this,” Lea Newman, one of the building’s early residents, told the St. Petersburg Times in 2003. “It’s like big city living.”
Back then, a unit in the building would set you back around $189,900. Earlier this spring, one of the condos sold for $615,000, according to documents from the Pinellas County Clerk’s Office.
Jannus Landing, the courtyard music venue, was sold to businessman Jeff Knight in late 2009. After some upgrades, he reopened the venue as Jannus Live in 2010.
Hotel Detroit Condos resident Duffy doesn’t recall the first band she ever saw there. But she does remember looking up and thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be really cool to live there and just have concerts all the time?”
Duffy was 10 then, but her fascination stayed with her until her late 30s. That’s when a friend who lived in the building gave her a heads up about a vacant two-bed, two-bath unit. It had lots of exposed brick and historic charm. And, most important, one of those coveted balconies facing the Jannus Live stage.
Duffy’s first show as a resident was Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in 2015. Her cat, Squishy, enjoyed the show from the balcony with her.
“He just passed away, but he loved watching concerts,” she said. “I have one other cat who comes out on the balcony on occasion, but Squishy was the one who really loved the live music.”
During the week, she still tries to see as many shows as possible. If she’s not interested, she’ll read a book. She doesn’t watch much television, and it would be too loud to hear a movie anyway.
According to a friend who lives on the other side of the building, it’s just as noisy in the units without a window or balcony facing the stage. Those residents might not have a view of the shows, but they can watch comfortably from the exterior staircase that leads to the garbage chute.
The city’s current noise ordinance means music must stop during the week by 11 p.m. Duffy is often awake and checking out the music. After her first year or so, she also learned how to tune out most of the sound when needed — usually without requiring earplugs.
“If I have an early day at work, then I have no problem going to sleep at 9 p.m., right when things are getting started,” she said. “If I’m tired, I’m tired, so a concert isn’t going to keep me up.”
Unlike a lot of other downtown condo buildings where residents pay top dollar, the Detroit doesn’t have a parking garage. Duffy has to park at least two to four blocks away. There’s a loading spot for residents, but sometimes people hog the space for so long that she ends up schlepping her groceries anyway.
There is no concierge, fitness center or pool. During the steamy summer months, she might catch a whiff of baking trash from the dumpster below.
“One time I was not feeling well… All I wanted to do was go home and put my feet up, drink a cup of tea, eat a bowl of soup and go to bed,” she said. “When I got home at 6:30 p.m., act one of a six-act death metal show was on.”
Another time, projectiles flung by Insane Clown Posse fans sent her friends running for cover inside.
“There were flying Faygo bottles everywhere that littered the place for months to come,” she said. “That was the only show where nobody wanted to go on the balcony.”
If Duffy ever needs a quick escape, there’s always her boyfriend’s place up the street. She visits him on the weekends anyway — unless there’s a good band playing back at home.
She enjoys luxuries others could only hope for in a historic rental: a dishwasher, washer and dryer and central air. Plus, she said, “the location and the concerts are the amenities.”
Duffy walks along the waterfront every morning, setting a peaceful tone for her day as she soaks in the sunrise. A little oasis before the hustle and bustle to come.
“The Central block has just gotten so much busier and so much louder and so much more like Bourbon Street in New Orleans,” she said. “I am not the biggest fan of it, but I also recognize that I’m getting a little bit older. Maybe if I was 25, I’d think it was the greatest thing in the world.”
Duffy is coy when asked how much she pays in rent. Another unit that’s available for rent right now, which includes its own private balcony facing Jannus, was listed at $3,650 a month.
“I would eventually like to get a small house, just so I can have a garden and grow vegetables,” she said. “But I’m not doing that anytime soon.”
Information from Tampa Bay Times archives was used in this report.