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Singer Island Could be Puttin' on the Ritz
Owners of the Twin-Towers, Lionheart Capital LLC,
in Talks to Convert Condos into Ritz-Carlton Resort Residences

By Alexandra Clough, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sept. 07, 2010--Singer Island soon could be puttin' on the Ritz for the hottest luxury hotel brand around.

The new owners of the 2700 North Ocean condominium are in serious talks with the vaunted Ritz-Carlton about making the twin-tower condo into a Ritz resort, according to sources close to the deal.

The property is being eyed as a Ritz residence, offering luxury condos with Ritz-style hotel amenities. It is unclear whether any fractional ownership of condo units would be allowed.

But the beachfront property, on Singer Island in Riviera Beach, isn't likely to become a standard Ritz hotel. The units are too large to be used as hotel rooms.

The Ritz is being courted by the condo's new owners, Lionheart Capital LLC of Miami. In June, Lionheart paid $120 million for 146 unsold condo units in the 242-unit project, which was developed by Palm Beach Gardens builder Dan Catalfumo.

Lionheart consists of the Flagler Group of Miami, a real estate firm with expertise in condo-hotels, plus two investment firms. One is Elliott Management, a prominent New York investment firm. The other, OZ Holdings, is a Miami-based private investment firm.

This potential deal with the Ritz has the real estate community abuzz. But no one involved wanted to talk because details still are being finalized. "I regret this is speculation and we cannot comment," a Ritz spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the new ownership group also wouldn't talk yet. "There's nothing to report at this stage," Amy Zakarin said. "There's been a lot of conversa-tions about how we're going to brand this property in time for season, but I think it's premature to announce something now."

The Ritz affiliation, if wrapped up, is expected to be announced in October.

--Maybe it's the messy napkin throwing. Or that whole dancing-on-the-tables routine.

But for whatever reason, CityPlace seems bent on evicting the Taverna Opa Greek restaurant from its prime perch at the West Palm Beach shopping and dining mecca.

For the third time in four years, CityPlace has sued the festive eatery for failing to pay the rent, according to a lawsuit filed Aug. 27 in Palm Beach County Court. The lawsuit seeks more than $25,000 in rent and fees.

CityPlace sued Taverna in 2007 for unpaid rent, and then again in January. Each time, the lawsuit was settled.

CityPlace now is seeking rent going back to 2009, alleging that Taverna Opa owes more than $14,000 in percentage rent from February 2009 through January plus percentage for July and August. Add to that the delinquent maintenance fees, legal fees and interest, and Taverna Opa is looking at a big chunk of change to get right with the landlord.

Taverna Opa owner Lirim Jacobi, who also has City Pizza, Sweet Ginger, Wild Olives Cafe and Taco Vida at CityPlace, is exasperated.

"We're trying to survive," Jacobi said. "This year has been really hard. The reality is I'm paying $43,000 a month in rent at Taverna. It's ridiculous. We're not in Manhattan. The traffic is not there, the money is not there, the people are not there, and the economy is not there. I'm trying my best. It's not like I'm making millions of dollars and I don't want to pay the rent. Nobody else is going to pay the amount of rent they're charging me."

Jacobi said he continues to pay because he and his partners put more than $2 million into the space, and they want to protect their investment.

"I sent them an e-mail and told them when season comes around, we'll settle," Jacobi said.

It's not clear whether CityPlace is willing to wait. A CityPlace spokeswoman said the company would have no comment on the lawsuit.

Restaurant broker Tom Prakas said CityPlace would do well to exercise a little more patience. Prakas, who brought the Taverna deal to CityPlace, said he doesn't have any restaurant clients wanting to take space at CityPlace now.

"Who else could pay that rent, and who else would pay it?" Prakas asked. Having that large space go dark "would not be good for any of the merchants" at CityPlace.

Prakas, of the Boca Raton-based Prakas Group, said the only deals he's doing these days are for restaurants taking small spaces at area shopping centers. Prakas said smaller locations require much less overhead, and risk, for restaurant tenants.

--Three law firms under public scrutiny by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum are finding that bad press might not be good for business.

Last month McCollum issued a news release that said his office was looking at whether the firms engaged in unfair and deceptive actions in their handling of foreclosure cases. In particular, McCollum said his office was looking into whether foreclosure documents were fabricated to rush cases through the courts. The law firms being examined are Shapiro & Fishman, with offices in Boca Raton and Tampa; the Law Offices of David Stern in Plantation; and the Law Offices of Marshall Watson, in Fort Lauderdale.

Now, one bank, Regions Bank of Birmingham, Ala., is contemplating cutting off the three firms from future bank business, according to sources close to the bank. The sources say the bank is wary of having the law firms serve as closing agents on new mortgages.

Attorneys for the law firms have maintained that their clients have done nothing wrong. In fact, Shapiro & Fishman last month fired back at McCollum, calling the probe politically motivated and overly broad. The firm filed a 17-page motion to quash McCollum's investigative subpoena.

Gerald Richman, an attorney for Shapiro & Fishman, said he wasn't aware of any actions by specific banks to limit business dealings with the law firms. "But (the attorney general's action) obviously is going to have a chilling effect with the banks, and the courts," Richman said. "It's grossly unfair."

A lot of money is at stake for these firms.

A little known fact is that many of the law firms that handle foreclosure cases for banks also handle the resales of the homes after the banks have taken possession of the properties. This is because the law firms often insert language into documents that require that they be used as the closing agent when the home is resold.

A Regions Bank spokesman said the bank would not confirm its ongoing review of the law firms. But the bank didn't deny it, either.

"While we don't comment on this type of business decision, we do have a process to evaluate businesses and companies who work for us," Regions spokesman Mel Campbell said in a statement.

"This is just sound business practice and is about ensuring that we are performing our role in balancing responsibility, our reputation, fairness, accuracy and potential risk," the statement said.

"Many factors are considered, so no conclusions should be drawn from any business decision we may make."

Jeffrey Tew, an attorney for the David Stern law firm, said the firm would have no comment. Officials at the Marshall C. Watson law firm could not be reached for comment.

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law. Contact her at alexandra_clough@pbpost.com.

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To see more of The Palm Beach Post -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.palmbeachpost.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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