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Walesbilt Hotel Lawsuit Inches Forward

Mediation Session Conducted, But Trial Postponed Until September

The long, seemingly endless tale of the Walesbilt Hotel continues to make its way toward an eventual settlement, although it's a process Walesbilt Hotel LLC seems determined to extend.

Lake Wales Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson briefed City Commissioners on the state of the lawsuit following a court-required mediation session that took place Tuesday. That process is confidential, so Gibson was barred from sharing what was discussed or proposed, and will be until any additional documents might be filed between the parties.

Both the City of Lake Wales and the Community Redevelopment Agency are plaintiffs in the case, filed against Walesbilt as the title owners of the property. Gibson participated representing the CRA, which he chairs. Also participating was City Manager James Slaton.

Walesbilt LLC received the title from the city under an agreement that the city now maintains was obtained by deceit, saying that the representations made by Walesbilt principal Roy Brown were untrue. If the courts agree, that would amount to "fraud in the inducement."

Walesbilt LLC has had title to the building for more than a decade, and has made only slow progress toward a promised remodeling and reuse of the building.

The trial had originally be scheduled to take place this month, but Walesbilt has filed a motion for a jury trial rather than the anticipated trial before a judge. That has caused the rescheduling of the trial to September because the scheduled courtroom will not accommodate a jury trial, according to Gibson.

The City and CRA maintain that Walesbilt has also failed in multiple instances to complete a number of actions described in the original development agreement, including failure to meet timelines, replacement of sidewalks, and promised grants to the Lake Wales History Museum.

Walesbilt has also filed a Motion for Summary Judgement," arguing that the facts are so clear in their favor that the judge should dismiss the city's case.

Once the matter is settled, the city is expected to transfer title to the CRA, which can then negotiate a new development agreement with a selected developer, carefully crafted to assure that it will occur in a timely manner. Several entities have expressed interest in redeveloping the property as a high-end hotel. The CRA is investing millions of dollars to reconstruct aging streets around the building as part of the Lake Wales Connected project.

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