Maitland may bring in additional developers for project
In his plea to Maitland City Council to keep the Town Center agreement intact, developer Bob Reese said he’s open to bringing in additional developers to help bring it to fruition.
“Why throw five years and millions of dollars down the toilet?” Reese said before Council.
A crucial block of the project land — the former Winn-Dixie parcel and the adjacent Royal Plaza — is scheduled to be sold at auction on March 26 unless Reese can come up with $8.2 million he owes Mercantile Bank.
This Feb. 10 foreclosure judgment led the Maitland Planning and Zoning Commission to unanimously vote that the Council consider terminating the agreement with Reese. But Council sided with Reese 3-2 at Monday’s meeting, with Council members Phil Bonus and Bev Reponen dissenting.
Reese seemed to change his tune, saying he was open to sharing control of the project with a joint venture partner or partners. Community Redevelopment Director Verl Emrick said city staff has met with five development teams in the past month who were interested in the project.
Commissioner Phil Bonus said that keeping the development agreement intact is keeping the city from exploring its options with other developers. “It used to be there isn’t anybody else, but actually now there is anybody else out there,” he said.
But Reese said a canceled agreement would actually be an impediment, requiring the city start from square one.
“If somebody else thinks they can make a better downtown, let’s bring him on, let’s joint-venture it,” Reese said.
Another aspect that could hold the city back is if Reese and Brossier Co. file for bankruptcy to forestall the foreclosure auction. City Attorney Cliff Shepard said Mercantile’s legal counsel thinks Reese will pursue bankruptcy on the eve of the March 26 sale.
“When you file for bankruptcy everything else ceases, including the ability to terminate the agreement, until the court says you could do it,” Shepard said.
The city is a party to the suit because the land is tied to the development agreement, and it could cost the city $5,000 to $10,000 to get out of bankruptcy court, he said.
Rev. John Butler Book said there’s no market for the downtown and the city should terminate the agreement while it still can. “To tie up city in the short run with bankruptcy makes about as much sense as putting a milk pail under a bull,” he said.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman John Lowndes echoed Book’s sentiment. “To tie up the city’s property when we’re moving ahead with the city hall and the fire station means no chance for anybody to partner with city to make this block a nice block,” he said.
The vote was taken on Council with almost no discussion of staff, resident and Reese’s comments.
After the item failed, Mayor Doug Kinson had only this to say:
“We heard good testimony tonight, and I’m very encouraged that something is going to happen in the next 30 days.”