Tampa Bay Times has some serious egg on its face as Blackstone Group says it’s NOT buying $1 billion in regional properties

By on September 22, 2012

Just last night, during a happy hour with friends, I argued that the Blackstone Group’s decision to buy $1 billion “on Tampa Bay’s hobbled housing market, dispatching teams of brokers to scour neighborhoods and buy hundreds of homes a month” was one of, if not THE, biggest developments for the region.

One billion dollars to shore up Tampa Bay’s shaky real estate market would be the kind of infusion that could transform the community — and just at the moment, as the nation’s economy begins to shake off the economic doldrums, when the region could use it most.

The story was at the top of the front page of the Friday edition of the Tampa Bay Times. (I’m not exaggerating when I say I saw two different people on Friday stop and take a second look at the newspaper because of that headline.) As of Saturday morning, the story remains the “Most Shared” article on TampaBay.com. After the Times broke the news, the story made its way into the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Tampa Tribune, and the Tampa Bay Business Journal,

Unfortunately, the story, written by Drew Harwell, is bullshit.

T”he Blackstone Group said Friday that it might buy homes in the Tampa Bay area and turn them into rentals, but that it will not be spending $1 billion here,” reports Graham Brink this morning.

Blackstone Senior Managing Director Peter Rose confirmed Tampa is one of about 20 U.S. cities Blackstone is evaluating for a fund that targets distressed single-family homes. “But we deny any intention to spend a billion dollars in any one city. In any one city, we would spend no more than a tiny fraction of a billion dollars.”

Turns out the source for the original story, Nick Pavonetti, owner of the St. Petersburg-based PDC Group, didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

Certainly, Pavonetti is not the first source in the long history of newspaper reporting whose claims fall apart upon further inspection. But, here’s where it gets bad for Harwell and the Times:

“The Times did not confirm the details with anyone at Blackstone’s headquarters in New York City,” reports Brink.

Ouch!

How in the world did the editors at the Times let a front-page story about a billion dollars in real estate transactions without, you know, confirming it with the company responsible for the billion dollars in real estate transactions?

All of the hope inspired by the original story is now dashed.

The Times response — so far — has been lackluster, if not irresponsible, considering the possible impact (the purchase of as many as 15,000 local homes) of the story.

First of all, Brink’s reporting seems to attempt to lay the blame for the egg on everyone’s faces at Pavonetti’s feet.

“I don’t want to get sued. I want to stay out of court,” Pavonetti told the Times on Friday. “For that reason, it’s best I don’t address Blackstone directly.”

Pavonetti confirmed that he spoke to Blackstone officials on Friday morning.

“We did not speak about the veracity of the numbers,” he said. “We only talked about how I should have kept my mouth shut.”

What’s worse, the Times has done little to correct the bad information it put out onto the street.

Whereas the Friday story blazed across the top of the front page, the follow-up story is only briefly noted on the front page and runs in the local section.

And, as of 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning, there has been no correction or revision to the online version of the original story, which is, as mentioned before, the “Most Shared” story on the Times website.

Undoubtedly, the story is being widely shared because of the hope it inspires. Unfortunately, that hope is misplaced. As is, at least on this occasion, trust in the local newspaper.

Officials with the Times did not return messages seeking comment.

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