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City pays dearly for Ybor land

A battle with city officials over land for a parking garage turns a $185,000 investment into $1-million.

[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
This is how the property near Ybor Square looks since the city took the land and razed the building to construct a $12-million parking garage.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


TAMPA -- In 1996, developer Alan Kahana bought a pair of triplexes in Ybor City for $185,000. Early last year, the city decided it needed the property near Ybor Square for a 1,200-space parking garage.

Kahana refused to sell. He planned to build an office building or hotel, his lawyer said, and had spent money to refurbish the buildings. He fought the city in court. A judge ultimately ruled that the city could take the 1,115-square-foot property.

But after mediation, the price the city must pay was a real estate jackpot for Kahana and two partners: $1-million, plus legal expenses.

That's more than five times his original investment, and about $750,000 more than the city originally offered.

"He was in the right place at the right time," said Jack Shiver, a close observer of the Ybor real estate scene who buys and refurbishes historic properties there. "He's just one example of a very smart entrepreneurial-type person."

Kahana could not be reached for comment.

"I haven't been that lucky on any of mine," said Joe Capitano Sr., a businessman who invests in Ybor City properties. Capitano said the garage would provide much-needed parking relief and encourage development of the area's east side, where parking can be a nightmare.

The economy might be slowing, but real estate prices in Ybor City are on a roll.

"Homes that you couldn't give away 10 years ago you're selling for $100,000," Capitano said. "It's unbelievable. It's scary."

Jack Rodriguez, assistant manager of the city's real estate department, said the former Kahana property was not an accurate reflection of market conditions in Ybor because the case involved a legal battle under the state's eminent domain laws.

"If you want to build a garage, you have to have it," Rodriguez said. "There are better illustrations as to value that are real sales."

But even those Rodriguez cites show huge returns: Some houses on Fifth Avenue purchased about 10 years ago for $10,000 to $15,000 now sell for $200,000; a house at 19th Street and Fifth Avenue that has not been refurbished is on the market for $125,000.

In the past five years, Rodriguez said, more than $200-million of mostly private money has been poured into development in Ybor, including the Camden Apartments complex. Mayor Dick Greco has thrown considerable resources into Centro Ybor, a shopping and dining mall, to help energize the area.

The city has evicted the tenants of Kahana's triplexes on Ninth Avenue, razed the buildings and fenced off the land for construction of the garage. The garage, expected to cost $12-million, is a joint venture of the city and Hillsborough Community College, which will use part of it.

In the late 1980s, Ybor was depressingly empty, Shiver recalls.

"It was as if Godzilla was coming," Shiver said. "I could hurl a stone down Seventh Avenue any time of the day or night and not hit anybody.'

Fernando Noriega, the city's administrator of development, said land had become so expensive in Ybor that within five years the flat-surface parking lots would have to be replaced with more efficient uses. "The land is too valuable," he said.

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337.

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