Walesbilt hotel proposal still ongoing, under deadline to avoid lawsuit

A long-awaited proposal to redevelop the former Walesbilt Hotel into a full-service luxury hotel and conference center is still viable, according to development team representatives, who have pledged to continue working towards a deal with the city that will ensure the success of the project.

Citing “progress” but wide differences between the parties, the Lake Wales City Commission on Tuesday night cleared legal action against Dixie Walesbilt, LLC while leaving the door open for further negotiations, with a deadline set for noon on February 28. If no agreement is signed and ratified by the Commission by that time, the city’s legal counsel will proceed to file the lawsuit.

The lawsuit would “ring” rest status, a necessity to avoid losing any recourse over the City’s title award under the original deal, which expires Feb. 2. While that wouldn’t mean the death of the deal, “it would obscure headline’ who could ‘take the funding off the table,’ the developer’s financial representative, Michael Greenberg, told the commissioners.

Hotel owner Ray Brown, who received title on February 2, 1012, has put together a “bell” financial package based on a major “flag” or hotel brand, for the building of eleven floors. He had been unable to present a viable financing plan in previous years, which featured both the “Great Recession” and a brief economic boom.

While the February 2 date conjures up images of the popular movie “Groundhog Day,” curators hope this time around the seemingly endless loop of delays will finally be broken.

Needing a multi-level parking garage, the developers asked the city to provide one, helping to purchase the current Care Center Thrift Store property to accommodate it. This building would be transformed into a conference center if the project progresses as planned. The city’s written response was a resounding “no”.

“That parking lot wasn’t just for us,” Greenberg said in response to Commissioner Robin Gibson’s criticism. “It’s in the city’s development plan.”

Dedicated parking is a clear requirement for the project to attract a lodge such as Hilton or Marriott. A representative of the project indicated that the minimum acceptable number would be “about eighty places”. A document provided to LakeWalesNews.Net by the lenders says a “flag” is a requirement for funding.

Robert Connors

Blue Chip Capital’s Michael Greenberg spoke with state city commissioners about the complex negotiations he is conducting with city staff and attorneys over the financial incentives that may be needed to keep the redevelopment project alive . It also negotiates with lenders who have committed to fund the deal if specific thresholds are met. They include dedicated parking for “about eighty” vehicles.

In a discussion at Tuesday night’s meeting, Mayor Eugene Fultz called the developer’s demands “holding the city hostage.”

“If that word is inappropriate, then I apologize for using it,” Fultz said.

Greenberg, representing Blue Chip Capital, responded that they were asked to provide a list of what they would like to see in a deal, indicating that it was something of a wish list. “I don’t think we’re as far apart as the Gibson Commission indicated,” he said. Any inducements or incentives the city or community redevelopment agency might provide could make the deal more financially attractive to lenders and ensure its completion.

Funding of $9 million has been arranged for the hotel’s renovation, but the cost of the whole project could reach “up to $20 million”, Greenberg told the commissioners. He added that the financial impact on Lake Wales town center would be “$100 million over four to five years. A million might seem like a lot”, but in this context, “it’s really not that much that”.

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