New ownership brings big changes to Spring Manor

June 11, 2015 3:08 pm Published by

Original Source: http://www.ocala.com/

Diana Tyson said she has lived at the apartments for about a year and wants to see change and wants to see what Southport will do in the long term. She said that since Southport has taken over, she does disagree with one rule: Instead of giving tenants money to pay their electric bill, Southport instead sends the payment to the electric company.

When asked about this policy, Southport officials explained that, this way, they know the bills are being paid.

Tyson said she understands why Southport is doing it, because some people did take the money and spend it on other things, but she would like for them to trust the residents.

“I don’t agree with it, but I will deal with it,” she said.

Tyson also said she hopes Southport officials will make it clear to residents that they and their guests should respect the roving armed security personnel who are now at the property. Those who misbehave, she said, should be “weeded out.”

Another new rule is that visitors are limited to a maximum of 14 overnight stays per year and before that person can exceed the permitted time, he or she must get prior approval from the landlord.

The planned future improvements include installing a gate for which residents must have a card or code to enter.

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Capt. Keith Escaravage, head of OPD’s east district, which includes Spring Manor, said reasons why calls for service have gone down at the complex include evicting people who violate the rules and imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

He also said that even though there is an armed security guard at the complex 24 hours a day, seven days a week, OPD still will be patrolling the area to make sure residents are safe.

David Nichols, the regional property manager for Spring Manor, said with the improvements and changes in policies, there may not be a need for the constant security personnel.

“Hopefully, we may not need them after a time,” Nichols said.

Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, austin.miller@starbanner.com or @almillerosb.
A troubled Ocala apartment complex that has plagued police officers, neighborhoods and even some residents is undergoing a rebirth.

The 9.4-acre Spring Manor complex at 2851 NE Seventh St., Ocala, once was labeled as a place where there was only one way in but multiple ways out for people committing criminal activity there. Since the late 2000s, residents there have been exposed to major crimes including murders, attempted murders, shootings and beatings.

Recent improvements have come about through new ownership of the complex, more enforcement of prior rules and the addition of new ones, and something as simple as a fence.

Shandra McHellon, who has lived at Spring Manor for eight years, said she has seen the “good and bad” and hopes the problems are finally coming to an end.

“We need safety for everyone. Hopefully, things will get better,” McHellon said.

As part of the new owner’s renovation plan, an 8-foot fence now encircles the expansive property.

“The gate is a big difference so far. It’s not so easy to flee the scene anymore,” McHellon said.

The history of Spring Manor dates back to 1972, when a group of local owners sold the unimproved land to Royal American Housing Ltd. for $60,000. Royal American and its general partner, Joseph F. Chapman III, based in Panama City, sold the complex in March 2011 to Spring Manor Investors LLC, for $4.1 million. On May 20,

Spring Manor Investors LLC sold the complex to Clearwater-based Southport Financial Services for $7 million.

Before the sale was finalized, a nuisance abatement order had to be resolved. Royal American owed the city of Ocala $21,675.50 in unpaid fees for police services, plus $5,900 in attorney fees. Royal American paid the fees, plus the cost of installing the fence, after which the order was lifted.

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Spring Manor has 32 one-bedroom apartments, 72 two-bedroom units, 48 three-bedroom units and eight four-bedroom units. The complex participates in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development project-based Section 8 program, which means most of the tenants pay 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent and a federal subsidy covers the rest.

Southport Financial Services, which has construction, management and financial holdings, has about 14,000 units throughout the United States, some of which also are Section 8 projects.

Southport officials said they approached the Spring Manor group and offered to buy the complex. They also said they have managed troubled apartment complexes in Miami and Tampa, and have turned them around. Like any other investment, they said, they are committed to Spring Manor and its residents.

“We’re working together as a team — us and the tenants — to make this a pleasant place to live,” said Brianne Heffner, vice president of development for Southport.

The company plans to invest an additional $6.5 million in apartment improvements, security updates, lighting and a new playground for children.

Heffner said that starting June 20, the apartment makeovers will begin and the process is expected to conclude in 10 months. Two units at a time will be renovated, she said.

During the remodeling — in which residents will receive Energy Star appliances, and the buildings will get new roofs, windows, paint and other improvements — displaced tenants will not have to travel far because a unit presently vacant on the property is being converted to what is being referred to as an “on-site hotel.”

That building was damaged by a fire following the July 2014 shooting death of Jaire “JB” Burgess, 19, an aspiring recording artist. While investigating, police heard gunshots fired around the complex. Hours later, the suspicious fire broke out. The damage forced residents to evacuate that building, after which a chain-link fence was erected to keep people out of that area.

Authorities said about two weeks later that three shootings within the city, including the death of Burgess, were connected and involved two or possibly three groups of people who had an on-going feud that involved common interests at Spring Manor.

More recent examples of the criminal activities at the complex include one person shot there Dec. 14, a man shot and killed there Dec. 29, and shots fired at the complex on Jan. 19.

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Recent improvements at Spring Manor, such as the fencing, the presence of armed guards and changes in policy, have helped reduce the numbers of crimes reported at the venue.

According to the Ocala Police Department, from Jan. 1 to June 4, 2014, there were 962 calls for service. For the same time frame this year, there were 639 calls for service. More than half the calls each year were for security issues.

“We have met with the new management team and have opened communication with them. We’re looking forward to making Spring Manor one of our safest neighborhoods,” said Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham.

On June 3, officials with Southport Financial Services, along with Graham and other police officials, hosted a meeting about 40 residents attended.

One man who attended the meeting but did not want to give his name said he is looking forward “to see what will happen.” He described the meeting as “positive” and praised plans for the apartments being upgraded and rules being enforced, such as those aimed at eliminating loud music being played until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., loitering, and the coming and going of people who do not live in the complex.

“It looks like they will enforce the rules for the benefit of the community and I’m looking forward to it,” said the man, who has lived at the complex for 10 years and was one of the occupants displaced from the smoke and fire-damaged building in 2014.

Diana Tyson said she has lived at the apartments for about a year and wants to see change and wants to see what Southport will do in the long term. She said that since Southport has taken over, she does disagree with one rule: Instead of giving tenants money to pay their electric bill, Southport instead sends the payment to the electric company.

When asked about this policy, Southport officials explained that, this way, they know the bills are being paid.

Tyson said she understands why Southport is doing it, because some people did take the money and spend it on other things, but she would like for them to trust the residents.

“I don’t agree with it, but I will deal with it,” she said.

Tyson also said she hopes Southport officials will make it clear to residents that they and their guests should respect the roving armed security personnel who are now at the property. Those who misbehave, she said, should be “weeded out.”

Another new rule is that visitors are limited to a maximum of 14 overnight stays per year and before that person can exceed the permitted time, he or she must get prior approval from the landlord.

The planned future improvements include installing a gate for which residents must have a card or code to enter.

“Hopefully, we may not need them after a time,” Nichols said.

Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, austin.miller@starbanner.com or @almillerosb.