TARPON SPRINGS — The organization charged with fostering growth in the city's business community may lose its building to foreclosure.
And some in the community are blaming the development on years of legal wrangling.
Bank of America started foreclosure proceedings this week on the Greater Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce's facility at 11 E Orange St.
According to court documents filed by the bank, the chamber owes $242,642.36 on a $255,000 loan that it obtained on May 8, 2007. The building served as collateral.
The chamber was to pay $2,075.23 a month until May 2027 but it failed to make the principal and interest payments in timely a manner, court documents said. There was no mention of how many payments were missed.
Sue Thomas, the chamber's executive director, said the chamber has been working with Bank of America for the last four months and thought a solution had been reached. But Bank of America's attorneys chose a different route, Thomas said.
"Their attorneys chose to 'modify' the loan by calling it due in eight months, giving us until January 2011 to refinance the building," Thomas said in an e-mail Friday to members of the chamber. "In this economy, they knew that would never happen, particularly with a nonprofit."
A call to the attorney representing Bank of America was not returned.
The chamber took out the $250,000 loan mainly to fight two breach of contract and defamation lawsuits that were filed against it in 2006. The chamber settled one matter in July 2008. The other was settled in December. The settlement terms are confidential.
"It's been five years of bad decisions at the chamber that has led to this and they have no one to blame but themselves," said Tim Dorr, one of the Tarpon Springs business owners who filed suit against the chamber and then executive director Theajo "TJ" Davis.
"All we asked for was an apology and to make it right. None of it had to happen," he said.
Dorr is the current president of the Tarpon Springs Business Alliance.
Dale Jacquay, the other business owner who sued and settled in December, agreed.
"I was pretty certain this would be the end result," Jacquay said of the chamber's current position. "I tried to settle with them three different times. But TJ Davis specifically took the position they were going to fight me to the end and run me out of town."
Thomas said that much of the chamber's money has gone to legal fees instead of programming recently, though she wasn't there for much of the legal wrangling.
Davis resigned in September 2007 after accusations of mishandling grant money. Reached Friday in Colorado, she said the board of directors controlled all the decisions of the chamber. With the legal battles, Davis said she was doing what she was told.
"They tell you as an employee what to do and they vote," Davis said. "You work at the discretion of the board of directors. I didn't have a dog in that fight."
While Dorr and Jacquay have settled their civil suit with the chamber, the defamation claims against Davis have yet to be resolved.
In Thomas' e-mail to chamber members Friday, she also noted that the organization's insurance rates were increasing.
Two weeks ago, the chamber's board of directors decided to sell the 5,094-square-foot building that it purchased in 1995 for $83,000. The property is now valued at $230,000. The chamber is working with a real estate attorney, Thomas said.
A tenant in the building has been notified of the chamber's position, Thomas said. Both Clearwater and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce rent their buildings, Thomas noted.
"Essentially, we are being held hostage by a building," Thomas said. "As far as the Chamber of Commerce, it is about the people and the programs we have. We can sit in the middle of the street, but it's about providing quality programing. It doesn't matter where our desk is."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 709-6026.