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Pier demolishers in hot water over unpaid bills

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The company undertaking controversial demolition of downtown St. Pete’s iconic inverted pyramid is being sued. The company Staff Zone argues in lawsuit documents that Sonny Glasbrenner owes it more than $150,000 for a tab the company racked up for temporary staff.

Sonny Glasbrenner submitted a credit application to Staff Zone in June, just before St. Pete City Council approved the company’s $3.16 million bid to oversee demolition of the Pier.

According to lawsuit documents, the debt was incurred through October.

A check from Glasbrenner to Staff Zone for $52,660 reportedly bounced. They’re speaking payment plus legal expenses and interest.

The lawsuit does not specify what project or projects the demolition company was staffing using that debt; however, the timeline seems to suggest it could be the Pier demolition.

St. Pete City Council approved a contract with Glasbrenner allocating the total cost of demolition. However, it’s not immediately clear how much of that money was paid up-front.

If the debt is a result of staffing service debt incurred for the Pier demolition project, it seems reasonable that the company may have access to funding to pay for services once it receives further payment from the city.

But the lawsuit does raise questions about the firm selected to demolish the inverted pyramid. Glasbrenner’s application to Staff Zone for credit to employ temporary staff listed its annual sales at about $12 million. The $150,000 debt seems chump change by comparison.

Could the company be in financial trouble?

They under-bid all other construction companies by more than $885,000 – a substantial percentage of the overall cost. Could the low bid have been to ensure they got the job? And if so, could the company wind up struggling to finish within budget?

None of these questions can be answered through lawsuit documents alone. The documents were analyzed during non-business hours, leaving no city staff available for comment.

However, with the Pier re-build a contentious city issue, the questions are likely to surface among critics of Pier Park, the design set to replace the inverted pyramid.

A group of an unknown size claims to be raising funds to launch a petition effort in order to squash Pier Park development. The referendum they are trying to push would require voter approval for any construction or demolition of downtown waterfront property.

Things seem to have gone quiet in the anti-Pier Park camp, but this latest allegation of a company associated with the process could serve as ammunition to fuel the controversy.

What also doesn’t help is Sonny Glasbrenner’s past allegations. In 2012, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection threatened to fine Glasbrenner and another affiliated company, Greenway Recycling, for $10,000 for illegally dumping solid waste materials.

Considering the city is also trying to beat down criticism for a recent raw sewage dump following a heavy rain event, it also seems bad timing to be affiliated with a company accused of illegally doing the same thing.

The lawsuit against Glasbrenner was filed October 13. It’s unclear whether the company has responded to allegations.

Construction on Pier Park is planned to begin in 2017 and run through 2018.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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