Shannel Smith and her boyfriend, Trent Thomas, were looking for an affordable apartment in Bradenton when they drove past the former Knights Inn motel and noticed “for rent” signs out front.
Affordability was important as Smith is pregnant and expecting the couple’s baby in December. For the past week, the 18-year-olds have called Robin’s Apartments, 2303 First St., home.
“We are just two young teens trying to get out on our own,” Thomas said.
After closing on the Knights Inn for $4.4 million on June 30, the new owner began transforming the units into furnished apartments with water, electricity, cable and internet for $625 a month. The first resident moved in July 7 and as of Monday, 11 rooms in the 240-room property were already occupied.
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“This location, because of the friendly and upbeat and welcoming environment in Manatee County, is already creating a model that is going to be unprecedented in this area,” said Vallerie Guillory, 51, who manages the apartments with her husband, Scott Claar, 50.
The apartments, named after Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, are the latest project of Harvey Vengroff, a wealthy Sarasota County businessman who has transformed several motels into affordable housing. The renovation of the Knights Inn will cost about $1.5 million.
“We need a community of people who know each other,” Guillory said. “It is healthy when you know your neighbors. The community, they will be able to help each other with jobs, with child care, with whatever it takes.”
With stints of being homeless herself, Guillory, a recovering addict with previous run-ins with the law, said she decided she wanted to help people when she came out of a crack addiction nearly 15 years ago.
“Having come from that place, I know what it takes to move on from it and know how to help other people do it,” she said. “For everything that I’ve been through, I’ve come to realize I have a mission.”
At Robin’s Apartments, Guillory wants to create a living, learning and earning concept. They’ve already started the learning component, which will help residents with life skills and business preparation, she said. Some local businesses have expressed interest in hiring some of the apartment’s residents.
“We are going to bring in whatever it takes to give them a little lift,” she said. “There is a lot of opportunity going on in this place.”
A restaurant and dog park are also planned for the community, which is pet friendly, and has an on-site laundry room, pool, shuffleboard and basketball/tennis courts.
But there has been some initial difficulty in finding residents for the apartments. Approximately two-thirds of the applicants have had to be turned down for a variety of reasons. Some have been sex offenders, others were recently evicted or otherwise don’t have needed social services support, according to Travis Vengroff, Harvey Vengroff’s son.
“We have been a little bit slower to fill up the place than we like,” he said. “There is not enough care on the social side.”
Additional one and two-bedroom apartments are planned for the five acres adjacent to the Knights Inn, which will allow residents to “move into something a little more comfortable,” Travis Vengroff said.
Ensuring Robin’s Apartment stays a safe community is important, and there are plans to make it a gated community, Guillory said.
“It is important to have a safe fabric running through the whole community here,” she said.
Interested in living at Robin’s Apartments?
Visit the property at 2303 First St., Bradenton between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The office is closed Sundays.