Bella Verde developer files for bankruptcy owning millions


Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Times Staff

Published January 10, 2010

SAN ANTONIO, Fla. One of the developers of Bella Verde, a proposed 4,373-home community on the Cannon Ranch property, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

Professional Land Development LLC filed paperwork on Friday in Tampa. The move comes about 10 months after Bank of America sued the developer in circuit court, saying it owes the bank $17.5 million. The bank also named three other companies, including California-based New Cities Land Co. Inc., Bates Properties Inc. and DAD Properties Inc., as well as Gregory D. Bennett, manager of Professional Land Development, Lee E. Newell and Frederick M. Bates as loan guarantors.

Professional Land Development also owes the Bella Verde community development district about $10.6 million, bankruptcy records show.

Other large creditors include the Pasco County Tax Collector, $733,789; the Internal Revenue Service, $1.5 million; and Wilson Miller Inc., $250,000.

The housing bust has been tough for Bella Verde, which sits at State Road 52 and Interstate 75, and its neighbor to the west, Connerton, which was put up for sale and shut down late last year. At least one suitor has expressed interest in Connerton, but no deal has been struck. In August 2008, New Cities got Pasco County to extend Bella Verde's build-out date from 2010 to 2017. As part of the deal, developers agreed to decrease the number of homes from 6,700 to 4,373.

Bella Verde had also agreed to pay $78 million toward road improvements, including a share of an interchange cloverleaf-loop ramp at Interstate 75 that state planners are requiring.

"We're like the guy who finished fourth in the marathon," Keith Bricklemyer, attorney for New Cities Development, told county commissioners last year. "We're staggering over the line, but we made it."

Land Development LLC owes Bricklemyer's firm $25,000, records show.