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Developer Demands Stall Civic Center Deal In Tallahassee 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (April 26, 2005) -- Frustrated Civic Center Authority attorneys said Friday a new contract agreement on a $90 million hotel was close to "impossible" because of last-minute demands made by developer Thomas Strauss and his attorney.

"I walked in this morning, thinking we were close," said Nancy Linnan, who chairs the ad hoc committee that has been trying to negotiate a new agreement with Strauss and attorney Marvin Rosen for the past four months. "Now I don't think we are close," Linnan said. "I'm thinking (a new agreement) is practically impossible."

The new agreement allows for the construction of up to 97 condominiums atop the hotel. The condominiums will be used to obtain financing for the project. The previous agreement called for 46 condos.

But Linnan said no agreement could be finalized until the developer agreed to an amount for annual leasing of Civic Center property to build the hotel. The authority wants annual lease payments of $290,000.

She also said the authority could not agree to a request to repay the developer from any surplus parking revenues over an indefinite period. The contract calls for the developer to make up any shortfall in parking-garage revenues to help the authority pay for building a parking garage.

Linnan also said she would not support a request by the developer to make condominium owners liable for rental payments if the hotel fails or is closed.

Strauss and Rosen did not attend the meeting. Gary Yordon, who has represented the developers for more than eight years, said the meeting was held on such short notice that neither could make plans to attend.

Linnan, a real-estate attorney with the Carlton Fields law firm, and Ken Hart, managing partner of the Ausley & McMullen law firm, have been trying to revise an amended contract that was signed by the authority in 2000.

Hart said 10 areas of disagreement remained in the negotiations, and Linnan called three of them "deal-breakers."

Hart and Linnan blamed last-minute changes sought by Strauss and Rosen for undermining the negotiations. Hart said he was disturbed that the developers had not responded with a specific figure for annual rent the developers would pay the authority. He said the lack of a firm number was jeopardizing the entire project.

He chastised Yordon, who represents the developers, for the lack of a firm annual rental-fee number. "With all due respect," Hart said, "I can't tell why we don't have a minimum-rent number."
Linnan was more pointed: "The message to our friend at the end of the table is we've got to have an agreement today."

Yordon, who sat at the end of the table with members of the committee, said earlier in the meeting that he was "not comfortable sitting here arguing real-estate stuff with you guys," but that he believed there was "some way" to reach an agreement.

Hart said until the dollar amount of rent was settled in the new contract, he could not go through two other contracts that have to be changed and signed as part of the hotel deal.

Hart said he planned to work over the weekend on the new contract.

"I need this definitive agreement settled and then some time to make sure the other documents are in agreement," Hart said. The other documents involve the construction of a parking garage for the hotel and the ground lease between the developer and the authority.

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Copyright (c) 2005, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.

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