Communication Builds Our Community

City Commission Agrees To Negotiate Hotel Deal Under Deadline

Agreement Must Be ready by January 15 to Avoid Lawsuit

With a promise to hold a special meeting if needed, Lake Wales City Commissioners agreed Tuesday evening to enter negotiations with a development consortium hoping to rehabilitate the historic Walesbilt Hotel in downtown Lake Wales. The deal may depend on whether the two parties can reach a deal within weeks.

"Our main goal is just partnering with the City," Daniel Greenberg of Blue Chip Commercial Capital, LLC. told commissioners, pointing out that they already have a construction finance deal, and interest in the subsequent "take-out" finance package that would cover the 24-month post-construction "stabilization" period before permanent financing would be obtained.

Financing the project has always been the stumbling block to rehabilitating the hotel.

Commissioner Robin Gibson, who is an attorney with significant banking experience, said he understood Greenberg's presentation in describing the various stages of securing the financing necessary to tackle what is described as a $10 million to $12 million project. "I speak your language," Gibson told Greenberg.

"I am elated to see you here, with your abilities, and your ability to get the financing that is so badly needed for that hotel," Gibson said after Greenberg's presentation. "I don't think you've ever appeared before a group of people who've wanted that hotel renovated as much as we do," he added.

"We can be partners and get this thing done," Gibson continued. "We want a partnership agreement. The difficulty we have comes due the statute of repose," he said in describing an agreement that "must be achieved comfortably ahead of February second," the tenth anniversary of the original agreement with building owner Ray Brown of Winter Haven.

The Florida statue Gibson cited imposes a strict 10-year deadline on any legal claims based on the design, planning, or construction of a building. If that period lapses without City action or a superseding agreement, the City of Lake Wales will have no future recourse should the deal fall apart.

Project architect Rick Gonzalez of Palm Beach also spoke to the commission and appealed for partnership. "These projects are extremely difficult," he said, describing the 20-year effort to rehabilitate a former high school in Boynton Beach, which is now a performing arts center. That project "never moved forward until the city became a parent with a private developer to create a downtown center."

After hearing the presentation by Greenberg and Gonzalez, the board heard a motion from Gibson proposing a deadline of reaching a written agreement by January 15, barely three weeks away. If that marker is not met, the City will authorize civil litigation attorney Kevin Ashley of Peterson Myers to file a lawsuit to defend the City's standing in the matter. The Commission agreed in a unanimous vote.

"If that happens, you're still not out of the picture," Gibson asserted, "because we can negotiate after the suit has been filed."

Both the developers and City officials acknowledge that a lawsuit would be a detriment to arranging financing. The developers are hoping that the City comes in as a partner rather than an adversary, which would give comfort to lenders. If an agreement is reached at a later date, a lawsuit could be dropped, but the impact on the pending financing is unknown.


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