An innovative project to revive a weed-strewn stretch of Tampa industrial riverfront is facing foreclosure.
Fifth Third Bank sued the Heights of Tampa LLC this month for defaulting on a $12.5 million mortgage on about a quarter of the property.
Developers want to build about 2,000 condos and 260,000 square feet of offices, stores and cafes on 48 acres acquired over the past decade on the southern tip of Tampa Heights.
For manager Darren Booth, the loan default is just a blip on a full-speed-ahead project.
The Beck Group, a construction company, is close to opening a new office building on the property. The University of South Florida has announced intentions to build a robotic surgery training center. An undisclosed 3.5-star hotel would accommodate physicians during their stays. The first restaurant arrives as early as October.
"This is a deal that's getting done," Booth said as Hillsborough River water lapped an abandoned wharf crawling with seagulls. "These are trying times for everybody."
Tampa RV tycoon Don Wallace provided much of the seed money for the project in 2006, collaborating with former Newland Communities executive Bill Bishop, who helped develop thousands of lots in places like FishHawk Ranch and Westchase. Bishop withdrew from the project, though Wallace remains an investor, one of several hundred.
Over the past several years, lenders have repeatedly renegotiated and modified mortgages as the economy soured. When developers balked at a three-month loan extension offered by Fifth Third, arguing that it wasn't enough time, the bank sued for foreclosure.
It's the second prominent Tampa urban renewal project to default this year.
InTown Homes, a West Tampa residential real estate venture run by former Hillsborough County Commisioner Ed Turanchik, handed most of its lots back to the bank to avoid foreclosure.
Booth is looking to the day when the waterfront teems with condos, lunch crowds and nightlife.
His office, a cavernous former Tampa Electric Co. brick trolley garage, could become a galleria of food stalls, the empty wharfs a huddle of boat docks.
"If it was that easy to get something done, then they wouldn't need me," Booth said. "Good things take time."