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Trinity Town Center's developers, lenders blame each other for the stalled project's troubles

From the St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School Web site, Bill Planes, right, with former U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis. Planes of Tarpon Springs is the principal behind the Trinity Town Center.

Special to the Times

From the St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School Web site, Bill Planes, right, with former U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis. Planes of Tarpon Springs is the principal behind the Trinity Town Center.

TRINITY — The developers of a stalled town center project mired in financial problems have lashed out against their lender, accusing the New Jersey-based firm of misrepresentation and blaming it for their potential failure to complete the project.

Trinity Town Center officials' remarks — plus new court cases, an IRS investigation and an outstanding property tax bill — raise fresh questions about the fate of the once highly anticipated Main Street-style project at Trinity Boulevard and Little Road.

In a written statement, Trinity Town Center officials called Kennedy Funding a "predatory lender." Officials said the firm stopped funding the project last year and doesn't even have the means to pay what it pledged.

Kennedy Funding, a quick-service direct lender that committed $47-million to the project, faces a number of civil lawsuits for allegedly failing to deliver on other commercial real estate loans that it promised.

But Kennedy representatives said Friday they have the money for this project: They just won't release it to Trinity Town Center. Spokesman David Green said Trinity Town Center did not meet certain contractual obligations, including getting lien waivers from subcontractors.

"They're desperate," he said of Trinity Town Center officials. "They're concerned about how to get out of trouble."

Trinity Town Center's ownership structure is complicated, but Bill Planes of Tarpon Springs is the principal behind it. He is also the chief executive officer of South Capital Construction, the general contractor on the project. (The town center project is unrelated to the developers behind the larger Trinity community.)

Work on Trinity Town Center halted after subcontractors on the project last summer began complaining of bounced checks or late checks. Those firms have filed dozens of construction liens worth millions of dollars.

This year, officials said they were close to getting a new lender on the project. But that refinancing never materialized, and it wasn't long before officials launched a full-court press against Kennedy.

Last month, South Capital Construction filed suit in Pinellas County against Kennedy Funding and the investors on the Trinity note. The lawsuit said Kennedy failed to serve a required five-day notice that it would cease funding the project.

Trinity Town Center LLLP, meanwhile, is going after Kennedy in federal bankruptcy court, piggybacking onto an unrelated case in order to get documents it says it needs to make its case.

But Planes and other officials have other problems, too.

Trinity Town Center LLLP owes Pasco County $92,336 in delinquent property taxes for 2008, according to records.

And since April, the IRS has filed three liens totaling $415,140 against South Capital Construction. In federal filings, IRS officer James Carr said he is investigating tax assessments for quarterly periods as early as December 2005 and as recent as June 2008.

Planes also faces a new lawsuit out of Louisiana. In May 2009, a Louisiana couple, Robert and Betty Rayford, sued Planes and two of his other companies in federal court saying he owed them $166,054 plus interest.

The couple says they loaned him and the two companies $193,750 on Dec. 5, 2008. Only the first payment was made.

Trinity Town Center was supposed to be completed last October and filled with upscale shops, fine dining and office space.

Only the first phase — a bank, finance office and a gift shop — are finished. In its news release, the developers say the town center is 88 percent leased. Some of the tenants that appear on Trinity Town Center's Web site are registered to Planes. One company that is still listed is a tea shop that is involved in a lawsuit to get out of its lease.

"Trinity Town Center LLLP is determined to finish its project. Thus be it ever so slow, each day a small group of dedicated construction staff move the Town Center forward, just one step at a time," company officials said in the statement. "However, without the ability to effect the closing and refinancing, it will be difficult for Trinity Town Center to be completed."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Trinity Town Center's developers, lenders blame each other for the stalled project's troubles 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 11:09am]
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