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Arena owner given until Feb. 23

TAMPA — Creditors have struck a settlement with Sal Diaz-Verson Jr., allowing the president of DVA Arena LLC until Feb. 23 to come up with a plan for getting a multi-purpose arena completed in Lakewood Ranch.

The arrangement was finalized Monday, moments before a Tampa federal bankruptcy court was to consider two motions by creditor Schroeder-Manatee Ranch — one which would have asked the court to allow SMR to proceed with a foreclosure sale while DVA Arena was reorganizing, and the other to dismiss DVA’s bankruptcy petition entirely.

What might have fueled the settlement is that DVA Arena earlier Monday filed with the court the identity of a lender it says will fund the completion of the arena.

First Quick Funding LLC, a New York City firm, is one of several lenders which will form a consortium to supply cash for a multi-purpose arena, Diaz-Verson said.

And it didn’t hurt Diaz-Verson that First Quick Funding’s appraisal of the arena site in its present state came in at $14,195,000, SMR attorney Michael Horan of Trenam Kemker said.

The appraiser also estimated the value of the finished arena at $53.5 million, Horan said.

“I think things really turned on the appraisal,” Diaz-Verson said. “I think that’s the thing. It shows there is significant equity there.”

If Diaz-Verson’s lenders go ahead with the project, money will be available in March or April to begin paying off the major liens on the arena, which include $6.8 million to SMR and about $9.2 million to arena construction firm, Walbridge-Aldinger, Diaz-Verson said.

What SMR got out of the settlement, besides DVA Arena’s commitment to continue to make $60,000 interest payments on the $6.8 million until the whole amount is paid off, is a “do or die” date of Feb. 23, said Dan Perka, chief legal counsel for SMR.

“We achieved two things,” Perka said. “We got the judge to allow us to continue to receive our $60,000-a-month payments and DVA Arena agreed they will adhere to a schedule that requires a Feb. 23 confirmation date.”

Diaz-Verson, who attended the hearing, said if everything goes smoothly, work on the arena could resume by summer.

“We’re very pleased,” Diaz-Verson said. “This is what I have planned.”

Although SMR will be pleased to be paid off, officials do not feel the appraisals were fully accurate.

“There are some significant flaws,” Perka said. “We didn’t see anything in the appraisal to account for the fact that there’s a deed that restricts what the site can be used for until 2024. That, generally, will make an appraisal lower.”

The former president and chief investment officer of insurance giant AFLAC, Diaz-Verson had arranged in 2004 for The East Coast Hockey League to bring a franchise to Lakewood Ranch.

That franchise was revoked a few years ago when it became obvious that the arena was going to be stalled for a long time.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917

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