Saturday, November 17, 2007

From Paradise to Nowhereville

For 9 years I lived in my personal Paradise. Treasure Island, Florida had everything that I wanted or needed. I worked less that 7/10ths of a mile from my apartment. There were 9 bars, 5 restaurants, and 3 sub shops within walking distance (under a half mile). A grocery store 2 blocks away, a discount liquor store a half mile away and a Walgreens 3 blocks away. Needless to say, I averaged adding less than 1000 miles on my car per year.

The running joke about me was that I didn’t go to the mainland because I hadn’t renewed my passport. The truth was that I really had no need the leave the Barrier Islands; especially with the advent of on-line shopping.

I could fish off of any one of three piers behind my apartment building. I could be basking on the beach within 3 minutes of leaving my apartment and swimming in the warm Gulf water within 5 minutes.

So why did I leave my Island Paradise and move 60 mile north and 8 miles inland. To put in a nutshell, it was because of local politics and the greed of others. I never have been fond of politicians. As my Dad would say “they speak out of the corner of their mouths.” As for the greed, I don’t begrudge people for trying to make a buck. But when they try to make a windfall profit at the expense of others, I tend to despise them.

In 2003 our Mayor, Leon, decided to move away from Treasure Island and did not seek re-election. Leon was my next door neighbor and he was pro business. His predecessor Walter was also pro business. At this point in time many small businesses were hurting for lack of tourists coming to the Island due to A) 9/11 and B) the state wide smoking ban. Most of our European Tourists ceased to visit Treasure Island. The mom and pop motels and the restaurants were hurting the most.

The Mayoral Campaign in 2003 was a scare tactic campaign targeting the elderly (according to the 2000 census; Treasure Island’s full time resident’s average age was 55 years old) people that were on a fixed income. Threats of property tax increases loamed heavy on the voter’s minds. However most of the voters did not realize that their property taxes could not increase more than 4% per year unless their property was sold and reassessed.

A proposition was also put on the ballot limiting the height of new construction on the Island. It was strangely worded (probably intentionally), so that a no vote would mean yes. Regardless of this I think that it would have passed anyway. The powers that be did not want and new Hotels and did not want to encourage tourism. In fact one of our larger Motels, the Ramada, had just sold and was being demolished to be replaced with condos.
Hurting for business many of the small Motels sold out to Real Estate developers, who planned replace them with condos. The Real Estate market on Treasure Island was booming. Property values began to skyrocket because of the new construction. This is one of the reasons Mayor Leon moved. His house and pool is now a vacant lot. He laughed all the way to the bank. As well he should have.

My apartment complex, consisting of 37 units, was sold to developers in June 2005. They planned to rehab the grounds and convert the apartments into condo units. They told all of us residents that they would give us at least 60 days notice. They offered us first choice on buying our apartments/condos. Many of the residents, including my daughter and son-in-law gave their notice immediately, feeling the impending doom. I had decided to stick it out until the end.

The new owners bought the property for 6 million dollars with hopes of nearly doubling their money within 3 years. The previous owner had paid $1,750,000 for the property in June 1999. The annual property taxes went from under $30,000 to just under $110,000. The 10 tenants that stayed were paying less than this amount in rent per year. Then there is trash, sewer and water. They were in the lost pool! They had forgotten the basic Real Estate principle of “Highest and Best use”.

In addition the developers re-landscaped the property, put on a new roof and made many cosmetic changes to the building. I would estimate that they sunk at least a half million dollars on these projects. To this date they have rehabbed three apartments and have sold none. The market, as I had predicted, had fallen apart. There are currently more that 400 empty condos on Treasure Island. Many of them are brand new.

Their new plan was to sell off one section of the building to other developers and in late June 2007. I received my 60 day notice with the option to move into another apartment with a higher rent. I declined the offer. And that is the reason why I now currently live with my daughter in Nowheresville, Florida.

The Beach Bum

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Change is good.Especially if you have a pocket to put it in. Family is also good and what life is all about.

Sun Nov 18, 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good read Duke-Zazz ...
Maybe you should start a column for 'The Heckler' back in your hometown of Chicago!
peace bro,

Sat Nov 24, 07:39:00 AM  
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