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$31.3M judgment believed to be foreclosure record in Manatee

MANATEE -- Yet another foreclosure record has been set in Manatee County.

A recent $31.3 million foreclosure judgment against two Illinois developers is believed to be the largest ever in Manatee, breaking a mark that stood for just two months, court officials said Monday.

Manatee County Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen issued the order Nov. 22, ruling that MCZ/Centrum Florida IX LLC owed IberiaBank and PNCBank $27.1 million in principal and another $4.2 million in interest and other charges.

Gallen also scheduled a Jan. 25 auction of 788.2 acres that MCZ/Centrum owns on the north side of Buckeye Road about midway between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75.

“It’s a great piece of property,” said Alexander del Russo, a West Palm Beach attorney for PNCBank. “If the economy was different, it would be a great opportunity.”

He said “it’s too early to say” what the banks plan to do with the property if they win the auction.

John P. Harllee III, MCZ/Centrum’s attorney in the foreclosure case, said his client consented to the judgment but declined to say why.

MCZ/Centrum, a joint venture between Chicago-based developers MCZ Development Inc. and Centrum Properties Inc., initially planned to build 1,594 homes and 150,000 square feet of commercial space there. The project was to be called Curiosity Creek, named after a water body that meanders through the site.

But the housing market’s collapse stalled the project, and the developer missed a November 2008 deadline to repay nearly $29.3 million in loans used to acquire the property and cover pre-development costs.

The banks then gave MCZ/Centrum a 120-day extension while the developer sought county approval for an alternate development plan. The revised plan called for the option of developing 7 million square feet of light industrial, commercial and other port-related uses instead of residential.

“There apparently wasn’t much interest out there for that either,” Harllee said.

MCZ/Centrum consequently missed the second repayment deadline, prompting the banks to file for foreclosure in May 2009.

In court papers, MCZ/Centrum accused the banks of reneging on promises to further extend the deadline while the alternate development plan was being reviewed and approved. The banks disputed making such a promise, and said it became moot once the county approved the industrial plan in November 2009.

The foreclosure judgment tops a $28.9 million one issued in September against the owner of two Bradenton condominium complexes that were converted from apartments.

R.B. “Chips” Shore, Manatee’s court clerk since 1977, told the Herald at the time that he believed it was the largest foreclosure judgment in Manatee history. He was traveling and not available for comment Monday.

But Lori Tolksdorf, Shore’s courts director, was hesitant to call the MCZ/Centrum judgment a record.

“I hate to say it’s the largest in case, along the line, I’ve missed something, but it’s certainty one of the largest we’ve had,” said Tolksdorf, who has worked in the clerk’s office for 26 years.

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