TEMPLE TERRACE — The City Council this week voted unanimously to sue the developer of its $150 million downtown project.
Looking exasperated after hearing from a partner with Vlass Temple Terrace, council member David Pogorilich made the motion to sue, which was quickly seconded by Grant Rimbey before the vote.
For more than two years, the proposed office-retail and residential-cultural enclave, located on the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River, has sat idle while the two sides disputed myriad details.
The key disagreement is over the apartment buildings planned for the northeast corner of the 29-acre spread. The city envisions a bustling Main Street, with retail shops on the first floor of the apartments. Vlass representatives have maintained that the recession has changed the picture, making such a design a financial risk.
Through its Tampa attorney, David Smith, Vlass sent a letter to the city in December declaring the city in violation of the contract between the two parties because it failed to use "reasonable discretion'' in changing the details to meet the economic times. Because of that, the letter stated, the city forfeits the right to get back the undeveloped portion of the land the city gave to Vlass — after reimbursing the developer for money spent on those parcels — and the property now belongs to Vlass. The developer offered to settle the dispute by returning the land in exchange for nearly $3.9 million.
"What we're asking for is fair and reasonable settlement for the almost six years that we've now invested here,'' said Mark Sneed of the Vlass team.
The city, on the other hand, has notified Vlass that it violated the contract by not going forward with the next project the sides agreed upon — the cultural center and a retail building adjacent to it. It's on that basis that the council instructed city attorney Mark Connolly to file suit in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
Speaking at the podium during Tuesday night's meeting, Sneed said the city created delays in building the arts center, changing the plans several times. At one point, he said, the council instructed staff to slow down on the architectural drawings because of budget constraints. He said that former city manager Kim Leinbach gave the go-ahead for the company to proceed with the residential buildings before building the cultural center, "whether or not he was authorized to do so.''
Saying he never recommends going to court if it can be avoided, Connolly told Sneed the city would be interested in going forward with the project if Vlass would make a proposal.
"What kind of proposal would we make, Mark?'' Sneed asked, pointing out that they had been over the details many times and failed to agree.
Mayor Frank Chillura said the city has asked for details on how Vlass arrived at the $3.9 million figure and has not received a reply.
"Tell us where it's coming from, and if it's legit, we'll take it into consideration. We need to validate that.''
Sneed said the company would provide justification for the figure if the city agreed to settle.
"We've been involved in this thing nearly six years now. We've done everything we said we're going to do. We've created value,'' he said, "and we're not just going to give it up to you and walk away.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.