Dolphin Tower fix could cost $13 million

Jun 27, 2012

The following article was published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on June 27, 2012:

Dolphin Tower fix could cost $13 million

By Michael Pollick

SARASOTA – Not long after Dolphin Tower was evacuated nearly two years ago, owners of the downtown condos were told it would cost roughly $600,000 to fix a cracked concrete slab and other problems.

On Tuesday night, owners learned the cost would be roughly 20 times that amount: $11.5 million to $13.2 million.

At that cost, the 15-story building’s owners would each be assessed $50,000 to $60,000 per unit for repairs.

That comes on top of continuing monthly fees and sizable assessments owners have made to cover insurance, legal, engineering and other fees.

Owners are expected to receive formal assessments by mail in August. Repair work could begin this fall, with re-occupancy set for late 2013 or early 2014.

But for Annette Leinberger and a dwindling number of owners who have soldiered on since the evacuation, the five-figure assessment represents a crossroads: Either walk away and lose everything, or continue writing checks into an uncertain future.

In May, Leinberger received two notices of special assessments totaling $4,200 — not for repairs, but for unexpected increases to insure the building at 101 S. Gulfstream Ave. and other “miscellaneous” expenses.

She also has paid more than $10,000 in condo fees since evacuating. In all, Leinberger has spent about $55,000 for a condo she cannot live in and a rental unit she sold earlier this year.

Like many Dolphin Tower owners, she fears more expenses down the line: “I don’t know how much more I can endure.”

But Leinberger has it better than some, even though in January she felt forced to sell a rental unit owned since 1993 for half the $80,000 that she and her late husband had paid.

In fact, on the heels of a residents’ meeting on Tuesday night, she is more upbeat now about the prospects for her bayview unit on the 14th floor: “It sounds like they are getting everything together, like they are getting ready to move ahead.”

Other residents have decided not to wait.

Susan Marks bought her bayview condo for $150,000 in April 1999. She considered selling for $315,000 during the real estate boom, but did not. Last November, she sold for $30,000.

For her, the unknown special assessments were the deciding factor,

“There was a $4,000 assessment, and that is when I said goodbye,” Marks said. “There was no end to the assessments as far as I could see, and no date for repair.”

Condo board member Marvin Kaplan, who represents an investment group that owns six units, said he was pleased by the turnout and the overall mood at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“Everybody right now is ‘Go, go, go,’” he said.

Still, Kaplan acknowledges that the enthusiasm may die down when the assessments arrive in the mail.

Charlotte Ryan, chairwoman of Dolphin Tower’s homeowners association, said renovation costs includes $9.5 million for structural work and $2 million for other upgrades. The plans also include a standard 15 percent contingency fee.

In addition to fixing cracked and disintegrating concrete on the fourth floor — which holds up the 38-year-old tower’s residences and which will cost $6.1 million to fix — the work will add a new community clubhouse with a kitchen.

“We are seeking financing to cover some of the costs,” Ryan said.

The fourth floor is to be replaced completely, and upper floors strengthened.

In August 2010, a city-hired engineer concluded from a computer model that Dolphin Tower’s side-to-side stability was weak, which would make it sway too much during a hurricane.

To address that problem, contractors plan to dip sheets of carbon composite material in resin and apply them to the concrete block walls.

After the work, Dolphin Tower should be better able to withstand strong winds, engineers and city officials say.

The board won an undisclosed settlement earlier this year from Great American Insurance Co. of New York, its former insurer, which should help offset costs.

It is expected that the settlement will pay for the balance of those repairs not being paid for by residents.

But that is small consolation to owners like Don and Mary Hood, who bought a unit in 2001 and planned to move into the building eventually.

On Tuesday, they packed up dishes to take to their primary home in Wisconsin, in a car they have had kept in storage for two years.

They estimate they have already paid $15,000 in assessments, exclusive of their property taxes and monthly condos fees. They fret about the pending, five-figure assessment — and the cost to repair their interior after walls are torn up as part of the overall repair.

“We don’t have it,” Mary Hood said. “This is just destroying us.”

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