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East County Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 8 years ago

Foreclosure proceedings threaten San Marco shops

by: Pam McTeer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — When San Marco Plaza visionary Stanley Appel designed the Lakewood Ranch shopping plaza, he drew inspiration from St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. A historic attraction that features a clock tower completed in 1497, the square is considered one of Europe’s greatest urban spaces.

But unfortunately for three business owners, the Lakewood Ranch reproduction isn’t the dream location they envisioned. Following Lion’s Gate Development owner Gary Moyer’s recent financial trouble, Underseas Paradise, Pedigree Lily Pet Spa and Manatee Golf all are operating from retail spaces currently in foreclosure proceedings.

“We got royally taken,” said Underseas Paradise owner John Leach, who learned of the foreclosure proceedings in late July — about two months after opening his store. “We put the investment to come in here to find out there’s a chance of losing everything.”

Moyer blames his financial difficulties on the “soft commercial real estate market,” which has seen a 40% hit, he said. His foreclosed units in San Marco Plaza were under contract for purchase in 2008, but the buyers never closed on the deal, leaving him with mounting bills.

Moyer said he has not forgotten the units in San Marco Plaza and is hoping to salvage the situation.

“We’re continuing to work with lenders and some investors to take (the properties) out of foreclosure,” Moyer said.

If Moyer is unable to save the units, the business owners may have an opportunity to purchase their spaces — an option two of three businesses are considering.

“Our plan is to stay here,” Leach said. “We’re working with the bank now. We started here. We want to stay here. It’s a good community.”

Pedigree Lily Pet Spa owner Greg Bell said he, too, would like to stay at the Lakewood Ranch plaza. Moving to a new location would negate the thousands of dollars he spent advertising in the Yellow Pages and other publications. Until anything is final, Bell will continue to add to his business, including a bakery section, which will offer homemade cookies and pies for pups by Halloween.

“This would be a permanent spot for me if we weren’t dealing with this,” Bell said. “It’s a beautiful plaza. My type of business — this is where it belongs.

“The way the situation is now, we’d probably try to reopen somewhere else or wait until the end and purchase the space,” he said. “It all depends on the stability of the (plaza).”

The third business, Manatee Golf, was only in San Marco Plaza as it waited for its permanent space in Gateway to the Ranch on State Road 70 near Rosedale Golf and Country Club to open. The project, also a Moyer property, is in foreclosure as well.

Co-owner Beverly Phelps said she and business partner Larry Tatro still are hoping to move their store into Gateway.

“We were ready to move in there last December,” Phelps said, noting the property has much more visibility than her current location.

Gateway to the Ranch went into foreclosure Sept. 14, according to court records, and has not opened because Moyer has not paid impact fees.

John Barnott, director of the Manatee County building department, said the bank contacted the county to inquire what it would need to do to get tenants in the space once it closes on the property.

Phelps said she remains optimistic despite the uncertainty. If the Gateway unit is unavailable when the bank forecloses on her San Marco space, she hopes the bank will allow her to lease her current storefront until the other unit is available.

San Marco Condominium Association President and iTesori owner Anthony Vento agreed, noting several customers had heard rumors the plaza had closed.

“We’re trying to remain (focused),” Vento said of San Marco business owners. “Despite the economy, despite what’s happening with the other spaces here, we are all trying to focus on our businesses and staying in our businesses. We can only do that if we have community support.”

Moyer sold his nearly 50% stake in the multi-million dollar Proscenium project in Sarasota to meet other financial obligations, but he still has not been paid millions of dollars owned to him by his former partner Zeb Portanova, he said.

Also facing financial difficulties, Portanova and his wife, co-owner of The Paper Tree store in San Marco, reportedly are out of the country on a four-month cruise.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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