City Commission Meets "in the Shade" to Discuss Possible Settlement Terms for Walesbilt Hotel Lawsuit
"Shade" Meetings Held Privately in Legal Matters
Last updated 3/8/2023 at 8:07pm
A recent private meeting, held out of the reach of Florida's "Sunshine Law," allowed city commissioners and their legal counsel to discuss the ongoing mediation in their lawsuit seeking title to the Walesbilt Hotel. The Florida law permits such meetings only in the case of such matters which would otherwise reveal the city's negotiating position.
The long-festering issue of needed restoration of the eleven-story structure, which dominates views of the city, came to a head just over a year ago when the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency filed suit against current title-holder Walesbilt Hotel LLC.
Both the city and the CRA had assigned their interest to Walesbilt LLC more than ten years ago after principal Ray Brown convinced then city leaders that he could restore the building for use as condominiums.
Ironically, a Winter Park developer had spent over $100,000 on design work in 2007 before determining that condominiums would be a money-losing proposition. The city gained title shortly afterwards and soon agreed to the contract with Brown.
The lawsuit alleges that Brown, through his corporation Dixie Walesbilt LLC, defrauded the City and CRA to induce them to grant him the title to the eleven-story building a decade ago. The claims of fraud refer to Brown's representations of expertise, experience, and available financing to complete the project.
Under the contract with the city and CRA, Brown agreed to redevelop the property in a rapid fashion, but progress was slow, leading the parties into a hostile relationship. The suit seeks to have that grant of title overturned and the property returned to city control.
Community Redevelopment Agency Chairman Robin Gibson, who also serves as Deputy Mayor, has led city efforts to reinvigorate the downtown area and called the commission's attention to the impending lapse of the 10-year statute of repose which would have sealed the ownership of the Walesbilt beyond any city claim.
In late 2021, as the commission began discussing the possibility of a lawsuit, Brown revealed that he was close to obtaining financing and partnerships to redevelop the building as an upscale hotel. The city was forced to file the suit weeks later, after a round of hurried negotiating, in order to preserve their rights under an expiring ten-year "statute of repose."
Walesbilt LLC filed a motion for summary judgement seeking to have the city's action dismissed, but that motion was apparently unsuccessful.