You Paid For It: Tampa Housing Authority’s $44 million ‘Crown Jewel’ back on track after lawsuits and delays

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After years of delays, contentious lawsuits and two failed contractors, the Tampa Housing authority has hired KAST Construction to finish the Tempo high-rise in the “Crown Jewel” Encore development located between downtown Tampa and Ybor City.

Tampa Housing Authority COO Leroy Moore told Eight On Your Side Monday the contract was signed Friday to resume construction. The Tempo is about 85 percent complete.

“We need to get this project done and over with,” Tampa Housing authority CEO Jerome Ryans said Thursday. “At the end of the day, people need a place to live.”

The seven-story Tempo apartment building was originally scheduled to open in April 2015 at a cost of $26.5 million to provide much-needed low-income housing for Tampa residents. There are more than 9,000 people on the waiting list for 112 subsidized apartments at Tempo. Eighty-one other units will be rented at market rates. With change orders, the Tempo’s cost to taxpayers is now close to $30 million. If you include design, engineering, real estate and other development costs, altogether the Tempo is costing you more than $44 million.

Tampa Housing Authority Director Jerome Ryans

Last year, the housing authority fired the original contractor, the Siltek Group, for mismanaging the project after that company’s original owner Rene Sierra became a key defendant in a federal corruption case in South Florida and construction defects started to become apparent. Sierra pleaded guilty to bilking the federal government out of millions related to housing projects in the Miami area.

The project’s surety company Berkley, which took over responsibility for finishing the Tempo after Siltek’s dismissal, tried to re-hire Siltek which by then was under the management of Sierra’s wife Ana Silveira-Sierra. But the housing authority and its development partner Bank of America blocked that move and the project remained idle for months.

After a five-month construction delay, Ana Silveira-Sierra formed a new company called Tron which was then quickly hired by Berkley to finish Tempo, once again against the wishes of the housing authority. That arrangement didn’t work out either and within months, the housing authority basically fired Berkley and Tron and started searching for a third contractor to complete the work.

Now Berkley is suing the housing authority and Bank of America for more than $9 million and blaming Bank of America and the housing authority for engaging in a “civil conspiracy” and for letting tropical storms damage the unsecured Tempo building last year during the lull in construction.

“No, they left it open. The contractor left the building open” Said Ryans. “That’s the issue and it bothered us.”

Ryans insists that no matter who prevails in the ongoing federal litigation involving the housing authority, Bank of America, Siltek, Tron and Berkley, taxpayers will not be on the hook for legal expenses or the added cost of construction. Ryans expects KAST to finish the job by January or February — just shy of three years after the original opening date.

“I’m looking forward to that day to be quite honest,” Ryans said. “We’re getting calls every day about the Tempo. Be ready to move in, start packing your stuff now.”

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