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Plaza seeks bankruptcy protection

The future of Bloomingdale Plaza, a strip shopping center with a history of trash, sewer and flooding problems, is now in the hands of a Tampa bankruptcy judge. Kode Florida Ltd. I, the plaza's developers, filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code on June 22 in Philadelphia.

Chapter 11 allows a company to reorganize, usually while making partial payments to its creditors. Kode filed its petition in Philadelphia because its partners live in that area.

But Kash n' Karry Food Stores Inc., the largest of about a half-dozen tenants in the center, has persuaded the court in Philadelphia to move the case to Tampa.

"This will allow us access to the court," said Laura Whiteside, an attorney for the supermarket chain.

Judge Alexander Paskay will hear the case, according to clerks in the Tampa court. No hearings have been scheduled yet.

Jeffrey Frankel, Kode's Philadelphia attorney, said Kode's partners have developed about 20 shopping centers in Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and most of them are in trouble. He said the economy is to blame.

"The industry is in a downturn, and all retailers are holding back in their expansion," he said. "Kode Florida was caught in the middle. . . . They ran out of money."

The shopping center went through several years of flooding and sewer problems that resulted in lawsuits and put even more financial pressure on the partnership.

Kash n' Karry's court motion said, "The premises have been rendered uninhabitable, unsanitary, unsafe and unfit for the purposes for which they were leased."

But some tenants say the conditions have improved in recent months.

Donald Clamon, manager of the new T-Backs oyster bar, said he was not even aware of the center's problems when he moved in earlier this year.

"They offered us a lot of free rent," he said. "But a lot of strip centers are in trouble in the state."