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East County Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009 11 years ago

SMR buys DVA arena

by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — After years of failed promises, missed payments and legal battles, the site of a stalled ice hockey arena project in Lakewood Ranch has a new owner.

During a foreclosure sale April 21 at the Annex of the new Manatee County Courthouse, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch was granted ownership of the 60-acre site on Center Ice Parkway.

After representatives for Walbridge Aldinger, the company hired to construct the arena, failed to attend the sale, SMR bid $100 on the property and within a matter of minutes, the deal was done.

“It has been a long time coming, and we’re looking forward to moving on with the project,” said Dan Perka, general council for SMR.

However, while ownership has formally been changed to SMR with the court expected to issue a title in the next 10 days, the ongoing saga over the failed hockey arena may not be over.

Walbridge Aldinger recently filed an appeal against a summary judgment issued by Circuit Judge Paul E. Logan last year, which first gave SMR permission to hold a foreclosure sale on the arena.

On April 28, representatives for Walbridge Aldinger are expected to appear before the Second District Court of Appeals in Lakeland in an attempt to reverse the judge’s ruling stating that DVA Arena owner Sal Diaz-Verson, who first filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July 2008, committed fraud. Walbridge Aldinger contends that dispute should have gone to trial.

If Walbridge-Aldinger were to win its appeal, then a trial would be held, Perka said. However, if their appeal were to be denied, then SMR would retain its current ownership. Plans for the future of the arena haven’t been finalized yet.

SMR is expected to resume conversations with developers who have previously expressed interest in the project, but it could be several months before a deal could be reached.
In the meantime, the partially constructed hockey arena will remain in tact. Despite previous reports, SMR officials have not determined whether the structure would need to be torn down. Although SMR hasn’t done any preliminary cost estimates, Perka said it shouldn’t be expensive to demolish the concrete.

“That remains to be determined, but it’s a good possibility due to the changes in building code,” Perka said of demolishing the structure. “It will remain certainly for the near future (though) because there is no reason for us to rush in and tear it down.”

Construction on the stalled hockey and entertainment arena began in early 2005, but work ceased after Walbridge Aldinger did not receive payments. Landmark Bank filed a claim to foreclose on the property in February 2006. SMR assumed the property in March of that year but had been unable to foreclose because DVA twice filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Former DVA Arena partners Chuck Madden and Larry Kish were on hand to witness the foreclosure sale, hoping to bring an end to years of failed promises by Diaz-Verson.

“It was neat — everybody was jumping at the idea because it was going to be something exciting and fun,” Madden said. “It’s unfortunate … it’s like a funeral to some extent, but it’ll still be a great project if someone takes it and goes forward with it.”

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].

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