Tampa parking lot owners eye development
TAMPA - Two brothers behind Seven One Seven Parking Enterprises have been buying up downtown Tampa land worth millions of dollars and now are starting to meet with developers about what to do with it. Their parking and valet business puts Jason and John Accardi in the business of "land banking," acquiring property cheaply and holding it until values rise. They also stand to profit if – as some business interest hope – the Tampa Bay Rays build a stadium in downtown Tampa. Not to mention the Republican National Convention starting Aug. 27. Along the way, the Accardis have picked up critics who don't appreciate the sea of blacktop they're exploiting downtown. Jason Accardi, though, insists he's planning development projects that will benefit the city."You can look at us like the next Donald Trump of Tampa," he said. "The long-term use isn't a parking lot." Most of the Seven One Seven signs around town are for parking lots the Accardis manage for other people, not lots they own. But they also have been aggressively buying up property in downtown Tampa, Ybor City and elsewhere. Bruce Erhardt, a land broker with Cushman & Wakefield real estate, said the brothers have looked at downtown St. Petersburg land, as well. When The Tampa Tribune last wrote about the Accardis' acquisitions in July 2010, they had spent more than $10 million on four pieces of land in the Channel District and downtown core. They also tried unsuccessfully to buy a spot across from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the old Newk's Café once stood. They've continued their acquisitions and paid more than $1.9 million recently for three parcels in north downtown, around Florida Avenue and Harrison Street, according to county land records. * * * * * Through various business entities, the Accardis now control more than 30 parcels of land downtown, county records show. It's hard to say where they rank among biggest downtown landowners because so many landholders control land through limited liability companies that mask their real names. They theoretically could benefit tremendously from the Republican National Convention, which will come to the Tampa Bay Times Forum the week of Aug. 27. However, many of the convention's delegates are expected to travel by bus, rather than rent their own cars. Fueling the Accardis' acquisitions is their booming parking and valet business, now in 14 states with a client list including Tampa's biggest hotel, office and entertainment companies. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, International Plaza and the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club are Seven One Seven clients. The Accardis are in a unique position as investors because their parking revenues allow them to cover some or all of their taxes, debt service and other expenses until the property market heats up. Then, they either can sell their land or build on it, Erhardt said. "They are in a very good position to be buy-and-hold buyers," he said. At least some of their money appears to be coming from Clearwater-based USAmeriBank, judging from mortgages the bank holds on the properties. The brothers' long ties to the Tampa area – they are part of a family, the Valentis, that operated a major local produce business – may have helped their business. But they also pursue new parking business with an aggressive style. Cliff Levy, a downtown Tampa landowner, went into business with the Accardis, investing in a downtown parking lot along North Franklin Street where the old Maas Brothers building once stood. But Levy first encountered them when they tried to win his business away from rival United Parking. "I started getting calls from John and Jason. 'Can you give us a chance?' " Levy said. "I said, 'No, I'm pretty happy with the status quo.' " "This must've gone on for a few years. I finally relented." Levy said he is happy with their performance. Not everyone has been. * * * * * Documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Tampa show employees have sued Seven One Seven at least three times since 2007 for failing to pay overtime. The result was payouts to employees in the thousands of dollars. Jason Accardi downplayed the lawsuits and said people also sue the company for accidents in its parking lots and other liability claims. "Anyone can file a lawsuit over anything," he said. For now, Accardi won't say what he and his brother plan to do with their downtown property. They've started talking with developers about options, but he acknowledged it will wait until the real estate market improves. Their strategy of operating parking lots downtown has frustrated some civic leaders who would prefer buildings with appeal over pavement. "People who are creating surface lots generally don't want to make an investment in the aesthetics of the parking, because they say it's just a temporary use," said Linda Saul-Sena, a former member of the Tampa City Council, who didn't single out the Accardis. "But in my experience, people do that for decades." Accardi said he has been active on a city committee considering new requirements for parking lots and has invested in beautifying his property, including the old Maas Brothers site. He also takes issue with the phrase "land banking," which implies he'll hold the land as parking for the long term. "I might build a 40-story high-rise there," he said. "The parking there is just an interim use." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7865
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