Mobile homes deal closes with no sale

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 9, 2005

SEMINOLE - At the last minute, a deal to buy the Harbor Lights Mobile Home Park and turn it into condominiums fell through to the immense relief of mobile home owners who feared they would lose their homes.

"That contract is officially dead," said David Bacon, the attorney who represents Royal Travis and the East Madeira Corp., owners of the park at 9191 Bay Pines Blvd. "As we speak, the contract is officially terminated because the buyer did not close."

The news thrilled the mobile home owners who rent spaces at Harbor Lights.

"We're so happy," Mike Rizzo said Monday. "It's a big relief."

John Loder of the Sun Vista Development Group had until 5 p.m. last Friday to close the deal, which involved buying the park for $47-million and the adjacent Bay Pines Marina for $15-million, for a $62-million package. But 5 p.m. came and went with no closing.

Instead, at the last minute, Loder said he wanted to terminate or rewrite the deal, Bacon said. Loder alleged that there was a problem with the title that prevented the closing from taking place, Bacon said. That alleged problem was a lawsuit or the threat of a lawsuit by tenants in the park who own their homes and wanted to stop the sale.

But there was neither a lawsuit nor the threat of one, Bacon said, and both the tenants' attorney and officers of the homeowners association gave assurances to that effect. The homeowners group signed a release. While that cleared any questions concerning the title, Bacon said, Loder still did not close.

"As a seller we were ready, willing and able to close," Bacon said Monday. Bacon filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare that the contract had been breached and was terminated. The suit is procedural to "make sure it is absolutely terminated," Bacon said.

That means, Bacon said, "the tenants are off the hook."

Rizzo said his wife had fielded calls all day Monday from neighbors worried about their future, but no information was available until late in the day.

It is unclear what will happen now. Bacon said he believes the Travis family will meet to discuss their options. Then, they might meet with the tenants, but "where we go from here, I just don't know."

Rizzo echoed that sentiment, saying, "Right now, nobody knows anything."

The tenants' ordeal began last May when Loder and Sun Vista offered $60-million to buy both the park and the marina. Loder, who did not return a phone message asking for comment, said then that he wanted to build a $300-million project with nearly 400 residences, including townhomes, single-family dwellings and luxury condominiums.

That deal was scheduled to close Sept. 15. When it did not, Loder upped the offer for the park by $2-million to $47-million, and last Friday was set for the closing.

In the meantime, the park's residents, most of them elderly and on fixed incomes, feared being kicked out of the park and losing their homes once the deal went through. They took their battle to the Seminole City Council, appearing at every meeting to plead that any request for rezoning be turned down.

They were joined by resident-owners from other parks who are also under the gun.

Rizzo said Monday the fact that Harbor Lights appears to be safe, at least for the moment, does not mean residents will take the pressure off the Seminole council.

Their continued attendance at meetings will support residents of the nearby Bay Pines Mobile Home Park. Residents there got formal notice in late October that Loder and Bay Pines Acquisitions LLC had offered $38-million for that park. The residents have 45 days to meet that price if they want to buy the park.

Residents of Harbor Lights also had a chance to buy their park, but Bacon said they were unable to afford it.

It's also unclear what effect, if any, Loder's backing out of the Harbor Lights deal might have on the Bay Pines contract.

Leo Plenski, head of the Bay Pines Homeowners Association, said he had heard nothing to indicate that there was any change in the Bay Pines deal. Plenski said he is still trying to find the financing to enable Bay Pines residents to match Loder's offer.

But Plenski, who had helped the Harbor Lights residents to lobby the council, said he was pleased to hear that the contract had terminated.

"It's a great thing," Plenski said.