Builder bids a farewell to Arms on Coquina Key

Published June 8, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The Mahaffey Co. is leaving behind a chunk of its history as it vacates Coquina Key Arms this week, a moderately priced apartment complex that sold last month for more than $110-million.

Mark T. Mahaffey and his father, Tom, built the complex with a partner in the early 1970s. Mark Mahaffey ran the team that has managed it since it opened, and he's feeling a bit emotional about the sale.

"I probably had the hardest part of the decision because I was on the Mahaffey side. That is where we worked and lived, and we knew all the people."

The company's offices at the complex will be moved downtown. Residents continue to live in the apartments, which will be converted to condominiums at some point.

"I think we have served over 40,000 people in town over all these years," said Mahaffey, chairman of the board.

His company teamed up with the Hardaway Co. to build the 1,006-unit complex. Most units have water views, either of Tampa Bay, Big and Little bayous, canals or lakes.

"It was very reasonable, and you got to live on the water like a king or queen," he said, adding that he lived there himself for more than three years.

Mahaffey, 60, was a young builder when the deal was struck between his father and Ben Hardaway III. The Hardaways owned the land, and Tom Mahaffey wanted to buy it for the complex. They could not agree on a sales price, so the Hardaways kept the land and the Mahaffeys built the 85 buildings, Mark Mahaffey said. Ownership remained that way until late last year, when the two partner companies agreed to listen to would-be buyers, who "courted, hounded and nagged" them to sell, Mahaffey said.

They agreed to sell to a Texas builder that planned to convert the apartments to condos. That builder then assigned the contract to a new buyer, Prospect-Marathon Coquina LLC, which also plans a conversion to condos.

Mahaffey would not disclose the amount of money the partners got from the deal. While some of the $110-million listed as the sale price in the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office went to the Texas builder who struck the deal, the original owners got most of it, Mahaffey said. They split it down the middle.

In an essay, Mahaffey wrote that his father took him in an airplane to see Coquina Key from the air, pointing out where he wanted to build. He made his son the "lead pony" on the deal, the person who would arrange rezoning of the land to multifamily, get financing, oversee construction and then rent the finished product.

"My father's philosophy for training was, "Throw him into the lions den and see if he survives,' " Mahaffey wrote.

Recent rents averaged $650 per month, Mahaffey said, and Coquina Key Arms stayed full most of the time.

After selling Coquina Key Arms, the Mahaffey Co. has only one other complex in St. Petersburg, Carlton Arms on 31st Way S. But it owns and continues to build others in Manatee, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk and Marion counties.

"We have about 7,500 units," Mahaffey said. "We build to own a long time. We don't build to sell."