CLEARWATER — The owner of the Clearwater Ice Arena said he will file Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stave off foreclosure and keep the rink open for business.
Michael Malki, the owner of the former Sunblades Ice Center since 2007, said the bankruptcy will allow the arena to reorganize its debt without hitting the auction block. There are no plans, he said, to close the rink or keep skaters off the ice.
Last month, Whitney National Bank sued to recoup $1.7 million still owed on a defaulted mortgage loaned to Malki in 2007. An attorney for the bank wrote that bank officials sought to foreclose the property and list the rink for public sale.
But Chip Morse, a Riverview attorney who represented Malki, said they're negotiating to keep the rink running, where it can be most profitable. The economy has packed bank asset rolls with foreclosed space, much of which has proved hard to sell. The arena would be no different.
"This will just be another empty warehouse the bank will be trying to get off their books," he said. "The question is, do they want it? Or do they want some monthly payments, based on what can be afforded?"
Attorneys representing the bank did not return messages Friday.
Malki, who owns two gas stations in Oldsmar and Clearwater, said crews have worked on the arena's three roofs, replaced lights, installed new glass and dasher boards around the rink and brought in a newer Zamboni. In May, records show, Malki told the county the arena installed a 200-ton chiller and newer dehumidifier to keep freezing the ice. The bill for repairs, he said, has climbed to about $300,000.
"The bank should understand I'm not doing this stuff to close down," he said.
Skaters, visitors and parents of high school hockey players have called Malki worried that the rink will dry up.
"They're very nervous. They're thinking the place is going to shut down," Malki said. "I told them places don't shut down that simple."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.