Guests want deal. Owner says no deal.

Parkview's new owner wants an empty hotel to renovate. Residents resist leaving, saying it's not just a hotel to them.

Published March 27, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - When Norman Kerr bought the Parkview Hotel this year, it was the first step of a multimillion-dollar rehab to return the 80-year-old structure to its glory as a tourist spot.

Before the purchase, guests rented cheaply for weeks and months at a time and treated the building as their home. Now they say they deserve more than a receipt on the way out the door.

"For us residents, it's not a hotel," said Jeff Slatton, a Parkview denizen for the past six months. "This is my primary residence."

Slatton chose his words carefully because the law treats hotel guests and rental tenants somewhat differently.

A hotel guest can be removed at any time, while a tenant of an apartment, for instance, must be evicted through a lengthy legal process.

Kerr had hoped to do some renovations while people stayed in the hotel, but that's no longer feasible, said Kerr's attorney, Rob Kapusta.

Current guests of the hotel don't seem eager to leave, Kapusta said, so he is having to go through evictions.

If everyone agreed that these were hotel guests, the law would require the police to remove guests who cause problems or don't pay.

But because this situation is clouded, city police say their policy is not to get involved.

Neighbors complained about the hotel for years, claiming that its long-term guests were a source of crime and a hindrance to a redeveloping area.

They were thrilled when Kerr said he would fix up the hotel and add a restaurant. Now that's being delayed.

"It's the holdovers that were always somewhat problematic and have now become very problematic," Kapusta said of the handful of guests that remain. "A lot of these people know what they're doing to drag this out."

Slatton said guests were accommodating at first, but when prices more than doubled to tourist rates of $75 a day, they were perturbed. He said hotel management then started harassing them by cutting off their cable TV or even electricity.

"People could have found another place," Slatton said. "But when they started playing those games, we said if they're not going to do it the proper way, we'll play hardball."

Kapusta said no one has been harassed. He said evictions only became necessary after people stopped paying and after guests started damaging the hotel. Slatton says there was some damage, but it was very limited and doesn't justify being pushed out.

Slatton agreed there's no proof of harassment, but he worked for the hotel and heard staffers say they should make life difficult for the current guests. He said he quit in protest.

Kapusta said Slatton was only an occasional employee who quit after Kerr turned down his offer to install a security system in exchange for a free room.

On March 10 Kerr received an anonymous letter about problems at the hotel.

The letter also states: "It may be in your best interest to humble yourself and make a small investment to help these people relocate ..."

Shortly thereafter, Slatton suggested that for $1,000 each, the remaining tenants would leave.

"I threw out a ballpark figure," Slatton said. "It's not extortion, it's good business."

Kerr did not accept Slatton's offer. Kapusta said he's in the process of evicting all the remaining guests. Some have already been served with eviction notices and will be forced out if they don't leave.

Slatton said Kerr's pressure is crude and aimed simply at removing lower-class guests in favor of monied tourists.

"The moral thing to do would be to give them a few dollars," he said, "but his own arrogance stands in the way. He just wants to get rid of the varmints."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.