Punta Gorda could use eminent domain to build City Marketplace: Sarasota FL Herald-Tribune, 8/17/06

Eminent domain is one option the city discusses to get City Marketplace built

By Patrina A Bostic

An outside law firm Wednesday told [the Punta Gorda] City Council members that they have options to try to move the City Marketplace development forward.

Those options include imposing eminent domain or canceling the city's agreement with the developer.

The problem is that those options would probably lead to a long, drawn-out and costly legal battle and put the city right back where it started three years ago.

City officials have been frustrated with the slow pace of the project to build a complex with condos, shops and hotel and office space on Marion Avenue.

The city hired the Lewis, Longman & Walker law firm of West Palm Beach to advise what actions it could take against City Marketplace developer Ron Bruce Oskey of Charlotte Development Corp. to get him to start building.

The city, however, can't do anything to force Oskey to immediately apply for site plan approval or begin construction, said Kenneth Spillias, attorney for Lewis, Longman & Walker.

A Bealls Outlet lawsuit against Oskey is delaying progress on the City Marketplace project, Oskey's attorney has said.

And Punta Gorda is fed up with it all.

The city has invested $2 million for roads into the planned $520,000-square-foot shopping center.

Recent state legislation regarding eminent domain prevents government entities from condemning private property for redevelopment to remove blight and slum conditions. Eminent domain would be an option only if the city took the property for purposes of transportation, right of way, utilities or public infrastructure.

"We are putting ourselves at great complexity," said Councilman David Phelen. "I think it's premature for us to take any action at this point."

"I agree," Councilwoman Marilyn Smith-Mooney said. Pursuing those actions, she said, would only lead to an adversarial relationship with the developer.

Councilman Tom Poole sees it differently.

"As much as I hate eminent domain, I think it would be very appropriate in this case," he said.

Ron J. Oskey, son of the developer Ron Bruce Oskey, said he hoped the council will work with him and his father instead of taking adverse action against City Marketplace.

"We would like to get going as fast as anybody else," he said.

Charlotte Development has been locked in a breach-of-contract battle for two years with Bealls Department Stores, which had a store on the site that was ravaged by Hurricane Charley. Bealls representatives asked Oskey to repair the store after the storm, court documents state. But the building was torn down instead, prompting the clothing outlet to ask Oskey for $10 million. A lawsuit followed.

That suit could continue to drag on in the courts. Ron J. Oskey said City Marketplace hasn't been able to get a clear title to the land because of the suit. He said the suit has made banks reluctant to loan money for the project.

The city also has other options. It could meet with the developer and try to renegotiate the agreement. Punta Gorda has agreed to provide roads into the development and to provide water, sewer and utilities to the developer.

If the city does decide to take City Marketplace to court, that could be risky because there is no guarantee that a judge will rule in its favor, Spillias said.

Bealls also could file a lawsuit against Punta Gorda if the city's legal action against City Marketplace turns out to affect the retailer negatively.

Wednesday's discussion took place during the regularly scheduled Community Redevelopment Area meeting. No action was taken.

Sarasota FL Herald-Tribune: http://www.heraldtribune.com