Assisted living facility gets new life and new owner
The former Comfort Cove senior care facility on 14th Street West was touted as not only a “game changer” for redevelopment in an area that had gone stagnant, but also in the way it could be quickly constructed to meet a growing demand for senior care.
It not only never opened but sat vacant for three years and no one knew why until now.
Manatee County was to be the birthplace of a business model to meet the rising demand of senior care, not only locally but nationwide. The former Comfort Cove senior care building at 3505 14th Street West was built in a matter of weeks. The modular design was constructed off site and then put together like a puzzle.
The developer, Brent Crego, invested millions of dollars and not just into his planned local projects. He began purchasing properties across the country in anticipation of a rapidly growing the Comfort Care brand based on the quick development of modular facilities.
The facility was anticipated to open nearly three years ago but work stopped, though it appeared the building was close to being finished.
What went wrong is revealed in two separate multimillion dollar lawsuits filed by Comfort Cove against the builder and designer of the modular building, as well as several other companies that worked on the project.
The former Comfort Cove is now under new ownership and being redeveloped as Villas of Holly Brook by a new developer, Reggie Phillips, who is a part time Anna Maria Island resident and specializes in assisted living facility development and operations.
Crego’s attorney, Cristina Pierson, said her client never walked away from the project, rather he was forced to stop construction based on the allegations oultined in the lawsuits. She blames those companies named in the lawsuit for Crego losing more than $10 million due to negligent construction, engineering, inspections and improper work.
Pierson said it reached a point where it was not only cost prohibitive to continue but unsafe to attempt to open the doors, based on consultants hired by Crego to evaluate the damage.
Pierson said there were flaws in the construction of the building and according to court documents, the air conditioning pipes were incorrectly installed, causing a massive water leak throughout the facility. The leak occurred in June of 2015 as soon as the power was turned on inside the building.
Court documents claim water flowed down and through the walls, crawl spaces and into the wood floors, damaging everything it touched.
“Due to humidity and ventilation deficiencies, the damage was exacerbated,” the lawsuit states.
Pierson claims in the suit that repairs were attempted, “However, the work was not property handled in a workmanlike manner or in accordance with industry standards.”
The suit goes on to allege that further deficiencies were then masked and concealed, but the damage began to show itself again by August of 2015. Crego’s outside construction consultants informed him in order to properly make the repairs, the building itself would have to be taken apart and, “thereby jeopardize their structural integrity.”
Pierson has filed two lawsuits on behalf of Crego. One lawsuit is against Champion Home Builders, which constructed the modular building. The second lawsuit is against the air conditioning company, the design firm and the inspection firm, which the lawsuit alleges allowed for the faulty designs to move forward.
In the meantime, Comfort Cove remains the defendant in a mortgage foreclosure case, still owing just over $3 million.
When asked why Crego didn’t just finish the job if lawsuits were going to be filed anyway, Pierson said given the millions of dollars her client had invested already, “It’s a load that can’t be carried for a company that had already invested so much. All of the people my client relied on to construct this facility for high-need patients created massive indoor air quality issues. We were told by experts in the field that it was unsafe because the mold had reached deep into what is an all-wood building.”
Pierson said the damage caused it to be a “catastrophic loss and the risk of moving seniors, even if you do your best, was a high-risk situation my client didn’t feel was reasonable. Our position is the negligence and the contract breeches killed this business model. It was supposed to be the prototype all across the country. This was a massive and deadly stab to our heart, business and business model.”
Pierson said the failure by those named in the lawsuit has destroyed any chance to continue it.
An attorney for Champion Homes did not immediately return a call for comment on Friday, but Pierson said the first trial date has tentatively been set for April. So far, it appears all of the defendants plan on defending against the lawsuit in court.
“We are pushing forward,” Pierson said. “My client was very much looking forward to providing jobs and a good place for people to live. The modular concept could go up quickly and as we all know, there is a growing need. It’s a good business model, but we can’t do it anymore. They will say it already failed. It failed not because it’s a great idea. It failed because of the breech of contracts and the negligence.”
Crego had bought what was vacant land at the time for $1 million and much of the infrastructure was in place before the project stalled. Phillips recently picked up the property out of foreclosure for $1.5 million. While Crego’s consultants said it wasn’t worth — or safe — to try and fix the problems, Phillips disagrees.
Phillips said he expects to invest another $1.5 million into making the repairs. Work is progressing smoothly and he anticipates opening the doors to patients by April.