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Channelside condo buyers want deposits back

Since the Towers of Channelside condominium developers filed for bankruptcy in late January, a dozen or more buyers have either threatened or filed lawsuits to get their 10 percent deposits back.

Some claim they were pressured to close before construction was finished and others believe they were duped by shady business practices or altered contracts.

None of it's true, developer Rich Sacchi told City Times this week.

"These people are looking for every excuse to not close," Sacchi said. "We finished the work, we fulfilled our obligations and now it's up to them to fulfill theirs."

Sacchi believes that too many inexperienced investors got caught up in the hot 2004 real estate market when the twin towers' 257 units — worth $275,000 to $3-million — sold out within two weeks. When the time came to close late last year, two-thirds of the units went unclaimed. Several buyers walked away from their 10 percent deposits, leaving about $6.9-million behind.

It's not nearly enough to cover the $50-million to $100-million in debt that the developers have claimed in bankruptcy court, but they have asked a judge to use most of the deposit money toward paying off the debt, since the buyers defaulted on their contracts.

Local attorney Brett Wadsworth represents three clients who want that money back, saying there were problems with the contracts and that the building was unfinished at closing time.

Another attorney, Mike Rodriguez, said he represents a buyer looking to get her deposit back before the developers claim it in court.

"It's my opinion that they may have withheld information from bankruptcy court," Rodriguez said.

Sacchi said that's not true. "For every attorney who says one thing," he said, "you can find an attorney who says the opposite. That's what attorneys do."

As for the buyers who complained about unfinished construction, Sacchi said they should come see it now. It's "100 percent" complete, he said, except for a few touchups here and there. The developers finished everything before its promised date of March 2008, according to his interpretation of the final contract (which extended the original time frame to complete construction from two years to three).

"We're still working with people," he said. "If they want to close, we'd love to help them close."

Sacchi doesn't suspect they will, though, because he believes many buyers were looking to flip the condos, not live in them. And in the current condo market, no one is able to flip.

"People just got caught up in the market," he said.

As for the bankruptcy filing, Sacchi said the Chapter 11 reorganization will allow them to finish the project and keep selling the units. The sales office is getting about 60 visitors per week, he said, and "it's business as usual."

Almost a hundred of the units have now sold and are occupied, and four of the five retail spaces are occupied by restaurants and a wine and liquor shop. The fifth space is under contract.

"It's the best project in Tampa right now," Sacchi said. "Hands down."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Channelside condo buyers want deposits back 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 5:01am]
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