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Bethel Village struggles with setbacks

The developers behind a St. Petersburg housing development initiated by the Rev. Henry Lyons aren't throwing in the towel yet, but the prospects for their publicly financed deal are looking increasingly grim.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has rejected their request for a 60-day extension to apply for nearly $5-million in mortgage insurance, giving them only 30 days or until Nov. 28, HUD spokesman Alex Sachs said. The developers also must break ground on the property off 34th Street S and 24th Avenue by Dec. 20, or the city may foreclose on the land, for which it provided $300,000.

Depending on how strictly City Council members want to enforce their contract, that could give the developer, Bethel Adult Care Inc. one month to win HUD approval for the mortgage backing, to persuade Pinellas County to issue some $5-million in tax exempt bonds, and to obtain permits from the city to get a foundation poured on the property.

The chief consultant working on the deal, Martin Bakke, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but he repeatedly has expressed confidence that the 84-bed assisted living facility will come to fruition.

City Council members discussing the deal Thursday sounded like they had no inclination to be generous with the project.

Most of them have complained for months about the city last year loaning $300,000 for a project tied to Lyons, who subsequently became the subject of federal and state criminal investigations into his financial dealings. Lyons heads the National Baptist Convention USA, as well as Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, which abuts the site of the proposed Bethel Village project.

Council members voted Thursday to ask HUD to examine Bethel Village and see if it complies with HUD regulations. As it is, HUD's inspector general started investigating the project this fall, after the Times reported that a forged document promising financial support from the National Baptist Convention USA was included in a preliminary application to HUD.