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Developer told to improve unfinished Trinity shopping center or risk demolition

TRINITY — Just a few years ago, it was billed as the "Main Street" of Trinity: a Mediterranean-style complex with upscale restaurants and boutiques, tree-lined cobblestone paths, a bandshell and clock tower, even the county's first parking garage.

But the shopping center — locked up in what one lawyer calls "the legal labyrinth of doom" — remains today an unfinished construction site and an eyesore to the residents who pass it every day.

Now, Pasco officials are starting to push developer Bill Planes to improve the half-finished buildings — or risk demolition.

Planes, of Tarpon Springs, has been cited by county building officials for 116 permits that expired in 2009. He is scheduled to appear before the construction board next month.

His options include getting new permits or demolishing all the unfinished buildings. He could face daily fines of $250.

Planes did not return a phone message.

Behind the scenes, Commissioner Ann Hildebrand held a meeting a month ago with Planes' team and nearby neighbors. She said he's also meeting with county attorneys as soon as next week to talk about his proposed timeline for cleaning up the site and, at least, improving the facade.

Hildebrand said Planes told her this would be an "eight- to 10-month process."

"I said, 'You've got to fish or cut bait,' " she said. "To me, it's a very daunting task."

She said the last thing officials want is for parts of the project to be demolished. "That'd be the worst thing in the world," she said.

It'd also be difficult to do, given the 40-volume lawsuit trudging through the Pasco court system.

Dozens of subcontractors, as well as the lender with a $47 million mortgage on the project, have sued Planes' companies for lack of payment. Many of those subcontractors began complaining in the summer of 2008 about partial checks, bounced checks and no checks at all.

Jesse Ray is a Tampa attorney representing Italian Cast Stone, which says it's owed more than $500,000 on the project. He said he and the attorneys for the other subcontractors will be watching closely whatever happens next at the scene. Demolishing buildings would likely be a nonstarter for many of those with claims against the project, he said.

"I bet you some people will object to that," said Ray. "It seems like the big case is locked up in the legal labyrinth of doom. It's sad, but for practical reasons, it seems like it's going nowhere quickly."

Branches of Old Harbor Bank and Raymond James Financial Services occupy one finished building. A gift shop called Halle's — the one retail enterprise that managed to move in before things fell apart — has closed its doors, leaving a sign that says the shop has a new location in Belleair.

Planes is no stranger to the court system. Just in recent years, he was sued for nonpayment by subcontractors who worked on the private school he owns, St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian School in Tarpon Springs. Six former employees of a veterinary office he owned sued him and his wife, Regina, in federal court, saying they routinely received paychecks that bounced, were not paid minimum wage in some cases and were not paid overtime.

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

Developer told to improve unfinished Trinity shopping center or risk demolition 10/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 22, 2010 7:05pm]
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