You know him best by his double entendre billboard on Interstate 275. It says Not Just Another Pretty Place next to his smiling face.
Now you may also get to know him well as a high-profile real estate developer who, lenders say in recent lawsuits, is not paying his loans. He is among the financially wounded in a recession intensifying on the troubled commercial real estate industry.
He is Grady Pridgen, an aw-shucks cross between Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Dean, who has built a reputation as a big-idea developer with progressive and green building aspirations across Tampa Bay, but especially along I-275's Gandy Boulevard and Gateway areas of St. Petersburg.
Lately, based on local court filings, his unpaid debts have been adding up fast:
• Early this month, Capmark Bank of Utah sued Pridgen and several related businesses for failure to make monthly payments since last fall on two loans worth more than $25 million. Capmark wants to foreclose on property that secures the loans. It also demands the full amount due from Pridgen, who personally guaranteed the loans.
• Colonial Bank of Alabama in March sued defendants Pridgen, former NBA player Matt Geiger and others who obtained a $7.125 million loan in 2006 but failed to pay it off when the loan matured last summer. Colonial also seeks to foreclose on property owned by the defendants. Once again, this bank is going after the personal assets of Pridgen, Geiger and a third borrower, each of whom personally guaranteed the loan. A second Colonial suit in March, filed for failure to pay off another loan for about $750,000, seeks their personal assets used as collateral.
• Another bank sued Pridgen and related businesses in late March for failure to pay on a $1.25 million loan backed by a St. Petersburg property.
• In late April, Mercantile Bank sued Pridgen and related businesses for defaulting on loans in excess of $6.9 million (plus interest).
So, let's see. Based on these lawsuits, we're talking about unpaid or overdue loans approaching $40 million.
Pridgen did not respond Monday to a request for comment. His office voice mail was full. Honey Rand, who handles his public relations, said his office had not seen him Monday.
In April, Pridgen and his wife, Jodi, sold their two-story, 10,000-square-foot home on 30th Street S in St. Petersburg. According to a deed filed with the Pinellas clerk's office, buyer Gregory C. Hill paid $1.255 million.
Pridgen bought the house — built on Pinellas Point by former baseball star Dwight Gooden — for $1 million in 2003. The pool bottom was still engraved "Doc Gooden" in gold cursive.
Late last year, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Pridgen and his companies owed $356,201 in back property taxes.
Florida's real estate market — as commercial developers and too many consumers will sadly attest — can act like a narcotic. When the market's hot, everyone wants more because we know prices will only rise. When the market drops like a rock, the crash is painful. Recovery is slow.
I hope Pridgen survives his legal battles with his banks and can rebound. He has good, if lofty, development ideas. I doubt he's just another pretty face.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]