ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three dozen workers at ONE St. Petersburg, a luxury condo tower under construction in the heart of downtown, haven't been paid in weeks and are owed thousands of dollars.
With the holidays nearing, some of the men say they are so short of money their phone service has been cut off, they face eviction and they can't afford a Thanksgiving spread for their families.
"I'm just in really bad shape," said John Obermeier, who said he is owed $5,000. "I really need that money."
He and the others were working for MIK Construction, a South Florida company hired as a subcontractor on the 41-story tower where condo prices reach nearly $4 million. MIK's owner, Michael Dagen, said his company had to pull out of the project because it hadn't been paid for jobs elsewhere and couldn't meet payroll in St. Petersburg.
"I'm hurting as well," Dagen said, but added: "I am not saying they aren't owed money. They are owed money."
At 41 stories, the 253-unit ONE St. Petersburg tower at Central Avenue and First Street N has already transformed the city's skyline and will be the tallest building on Florida's West Coast when finished next year. It is a project of Kolter, a West Palm Beach company that also developed the Hyatt Place hotel that recently opened next door.
The main contractor on the job, KAST Construction of West Palm Beach, hired MIK last year to do masonry work. Started in 2005, MIK has been involved in other large projects including the $350 renovation of the Miami Dolphins stadium.
Dagen said KAST turned to another company last week when his company couldn't pay its workers.
"This is an unfortunate part of construction —- you get over-extended," he said. "We've had a lot of projects go bad and we're owed a lot of money from a lot of people. We informed KAST we needed help, we told them we couldn't afford to continue."
Kolter, Kast and the new subcontractor, Advanced Masonry Systems of Sarasota, did not return calls for comment.
Obermeier, who had been commuting from Pasco County to his $23-an-hour job at ONE St. Petersburg, said KAST apparently knew there were problems at least two weeks ago but didn't say anything to MIK's workers.
Obermeier said he was on a construction elevator with a KAST project manager who asked him if MIK's checks were clearing. Obermeier told him "yes," not realizing that the check he had deposited with his bank would fail to clear a few days later.
"I thought that was odd," he said of the manager's query. "That's one of the reasons I'm so angry. If I'd known (of problems), I could have cut my losses and gone somewhere else."
Kenneth Tilgman, who lives in Lakeland, said he received one check for $2,000 from MIK that bounced. He is owed that plus another $2,000.
"I'm supposed to be evicted out of my plac" this week, he said.
Samuel Connors, a father of five who says he too is owed $4,000, said his cell phone service had been cut off for non payment and that he is behind on his car loan.
"I've been on that project since September," Connors said, speaking on a friend's phone. "The last time I was paid was Nov. 3 but that check bounced."
Dagen acknowledged that checks bounced, but said the workers had been told not to cash them because of insufficient funds. The workers deny they were told that.
According to emails that Connors forwarded to the Tampa Bay Times, KAST maintains that workers need to deal with the bonding company that is responsible for paying MIK's labor and suppliers in event of default.
"The proper process is for you and the others to file a bond claim with them," said a KAST email to one worker.
Obermeier wonders how many days or weeks that will take. In the meantime, he received a text from Advanced Masonry Systems this morning telling him and another former MIK employee, Robert Cabral, to report for work Monday. But it didn't say anything about the thousands they are owed.
"The insurance for my truck lapsed because I couldn't pay it," Obermeier said. "I can't (afford to) pick up my laundry. Yet this is OK with corporate America. All these rich people getting paid and how are we supposed to have Thanksgiving?"
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate