This time of year, the sunny beaches of Florida are packed with retirees escaping frigid northern winters. For the past 50 years, senior residents of Dearborn, Mich., have also had a unique escape to coastal living. Dearborn Towers, an eight-story apartment building with 88 units, sits on two waterfront acres in Clearwater, Fla. It has its own pool, private fishing dock and marina. But in what may be the only arrangement of its kind in the nation, it’s actually owned by the city of Dearborn, which is 1,200 miles away.

Dearborn built the Towers in 1960 to offer city residents a special perk: Any retirees in Dearborn could sign up for a unit in the building, for all or part of the year. The building stayed full through the 1990s, and there was typically a waiting list for apartments. By the turn of this century, though, the building’s popularity faded as retirees decided they’d rather buy or rent their own place than lease from the city. While the Towers were never really a drain on city finances -- the apartment building was essentially self-sustaining -- the city began to think about unloading the property. In 2007, Dearborn citizens voted to sell the Towers.

The Towers went on the market in May 2010 for $7.5 million. Thanks to the weak housing market -- especially in Florida -- it turned out to be particularly bad timing. The city got a few offers, but none panned out. (The 2007 vote stipulated that the sale price must meet the building’s appraised price of about $5.9 million.)

Then, this past November, the city announced that it had found a buyer. Although Dearborn won’t disclose the price, the city says it hopes to finalize the sale by the middle of this year. That’s fortunate: In what was perhaps a bit of prehatched chicken counting, the city factored $6 million from the sale into this year’s budget.