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Homeowners fall short with Super Bowl fans

With dreams of dollars, residents find renting their homes a tough sell.

By AMY WIMMER and SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001


Homeowners who saw dollar signs in Super Bowl weekend are having a hard time cashing in on renting out.

From gulfside beachhouses to luxury homes in Tampa to more modest houses within walking distance of Raymond James Stadium, hundreds of residents in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties hoped accommodation-hungry Super Bowl revelers would come knocking for a place to stay.

With Super Bowl week here, most came up empty-handed.

"We haven't gotten one call from the Web site," said James Mergen, who paid $250 to post his Beach Park home through the Internet advertising company Event Accommodations.

He suspects only luxury residences with views and a lot of rooms attracted any takers.

"There's a heck of a lot of homes out there," he said. "I think we were misled about the number of people coming into town."

More than 100,000 people are expected to come to the Tampa Bay area for the game. Based on experience, most will stay an average of four nights, not a week or more like many homeowners envisioned.

Around Tampa Bay, homeowners advertising in newspaper classifieds or on the Internet are offering their homes for prices ranging from $2,000 a week for a small vacation rental to $600,000 a week for a gated estate featuring a movie theater, racquetball court and nine-car garage.

Home rentals have become popular alternatives to hotel rooms for big-draw events like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, the Indianapolis 500, even this year's presidential inauguration. Often, supply exceeds demand.

Super Bowl organizers say the region, which they say extends as far as Orlando, has enough rooms to accommodate visitors. Reservations skyrocketed after the final teams were decided, and many hotels are sold out.

Frank Hurley, a St. Pete Beach real estate agent, said he has received more calls from eager homeowners than prospective Super Bowl home renters.

"We still get calls from people who say that they want to rent out their houses for the weekend," Hurley said. "They want $3,000 a week or $3,000 a day or $5,000 a week.

"I've heard of many hopeful people and many optimistic people on the subject, but that's as far as it's gone."

Hurley has had two inquiries from home seekers, but both were essentially looking for party palaces, he said.

"They wanted really palatial mansions directly out on the beachfront where you have the ability to have a party of at least 50 people or so," Hurley. St. Pete Beach residents Ken and Margaret Herman are looking for tenants for their three newly remodeled apartments on Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille. ESPN had planned to take the $500-a-night units -- until the sports network found accommodations closer to Raymond James Stadium.

The Hermans filled their other rental properties by running a classified advertisement in the Baltimore Sun and also have kept up with small hoteliers between St. Pete Beach and Indian Rocks Beach, who say hotel rooms remain available, particularly at small mom-and-pop motels.

Melissa Yardy, president of Re/Max Preferred in St. Petersburg, said her office was inundated with people who wanted to rent out their homes, but just recently began to get calls from prospective clients. She suspects most of the "big spenders" booked hotels a while ago.

As of last week, Re/Max had rented "quite a few" of the 250 properties available, Yardy said. They went for $600 a night and up.

Among those was Todd Gilbert's home in Lake Carroll just north of the stadium. Gilbert was asking $55,000 a week, but he ended up negotiating for $6,500 a night for four days.

Not bad, he says. After paying the taxes and the real estate agent's commission, he got $19,000. Up front.

He rented his 8,000-square-foot, six-bedroom lakefront home to an Internet corporation from Argentina.

"They told me it would be nice to have everybody in one location and not too far from the events," Gilbert said.

Gerald Leroux wasn't as lucky. He offered his 38-foot tour bus, equipped with two televisions, two videocassette recorders, a DVD player, a full bar, a chef and an armed bodyguard, for $25,000. The bus was to be parked at the stadium, with its users having access after the game to a three-bedroom Palm Harbor home.

"I had a call and they told me it was a good price, they would call me back," Leroux said. "Nobody's phoned me yet this morning."

David Forney hasn't had any takers either. He said he got 800 hits on an Internet ad for his 1928 Old Seminole Heights bungalow, but no bites.

"I probably won't be doing it again," he said.

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