CLEARWATER — Lenders are moving to foreclose on two proposed development projects backed by Uday Lele, a businessman who made his fortune as a candy entrepreneur.
The higher profile of the two projects is Lele's planned Enchantment development. First announced in 2005, the massive condo tower is to one day replace the Best Western that Lele owns on Clearwater Pass.
Despite occasional rumblings that the project was soon to take flight, Enchantment has remained at the blueprint stage.
On July 24, Bank of America filed a notice to foreclose on a loan helping fund the project. Though now in Bank of America's hands, Lele originally got the $21 million loan about year ago from Lehman Brothers, the financial giant that filed for bankruptcy in September.
In a conversation Thursday, Lele said Lehman Brothers had duped him. After handing over $300,000 to lock in a favorable interest rate, Lele said the lender altered the terms of the loan at the closing table. If you don't agree, Lele said he was told, you lose your $300,000.
Then, after the loan was finalized, Lehman demanded that he purchase frivolous insurance for the project, Lele said.
"What was done by Lehman was extremely, extremely wrong," he said. "It was predatory lending."
Two months ago, Lele said, he stopped making his payments not because he was short on cash, but to get the attention of the loan's current beneficiary. He's actively in talks with the company servicing the loan, he said, and expects to reach new terms in a matter of days.
So how far is he behind?
"It's a couple of hundred thousand," Lele said. "It's not a big deal."
The second project is a planned eight-story hotel called Ambiance to be built between Kendall and Avalon streets north of the Palm Pavilion restaurant and inn.
Over the objections of some residents who are concerned the hotel won't harmonize with the area's Old Florida feel, the city's Community Development Board okayed the project in mid June.
On May 1, Whitney National Bank filed a notice to foreclose on a loan behind the Ambiance project. Lele said that unlike Enchantment, he is not a primary investor in Ambiance and he's unfamiliar with the details of what's owed or why payments have been missed.
"That was my brother-in-law's deal," Lele said. "I wasn't calling the shots."
Lele insisted that neither project is in jeopardy, that the loans will be paid and that both developments will be brought to completion, though he was unable to say when.
Will Van Sant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4166.