Lakewood Ranch Herald

Judge OKs foreclosure sale for hockey arena

A federal bankruptcy judge granted Schroeder-Manatee Ranch permission to hold a foreclosure sale on the unfinished hockey arena owned by DVA Arena anytime after April 7.

“Absolutely, it’s a victory for us,” said Dan Perka, chief counsel for SMR, after the ruling Monday by Judge Caryl Delano at the Federal Courthouse in Tampa.

The ruling by Delano came seven months after Sal Diaz-Verson Jr., president of DVA Arena, was able to block a July 2008 arena foreclosure sale by getting bankruptcy protection.

Although the ruling by Delano was expected since Diaz-Verson Jr. showed up Monday without a $60,000 interest payment to first-lien-holder SMR or a detailed restructuring plan, there were some dramatics in the courtroom.SMR attorney Michael Horan may have revealed a glimpse into SMR’s anger level with the arena situation when he told the judge that the arena has become a “blight” on SMR’s overall 48-square-mile holdings east of Interstate 75.

“This debt has tied up an area of SMR land,” Horan said. “It’s a blight. You’ve got three walls sitting out there. The debtor has done nothing since 2004.”

Later, Diaz-Verson said he thought that SMR really wanted the land back and was not interested in just being paid off.

Despite his lack of a $60,000 interest payment Monday or having a lender show up in person with a plan, Diaz-Verson said after the hearing that he has no intentions of letting SMR capture the arena and the 60 acres it sits on.

“I will pay SMR off in full before the foreclosure sale,” Diaz-Verson vowed. “I am not concerned about SMR. I have to build that building. It’s Walbridge-Aldinger, the construction company, that I have to work with. I plan on making them an offer.”

SMR is owed roughly $7 million and if Diaz-Verson is able to pay them off, he will maintain control over the site and the facility. Walbridge-Aldinger, in second position as a creditor, is owed roughly $9 million.

Diaz-Verson said his plan is to borrow $8 million within the next 30 days from a yet unnamed New York lending group and to pay SMR off.

Meanwhile, he said he will fly to Detroit this week and try to cut a deal with Walbridge-Aldinger.

The key to the deal, Diaz-Verson said, is that the New York lending group wants to be in first loan position on the 60-acre site after SMR is paid off, which means that Walbridge-Aldinger would have to agree to stay in second position.

“I have to go to Walbridge-Aldinger and say, ‘You will still be in second position but here’s the deal I will cut with you.’ ”

Diaz-Verson said he will offer the construction company some cash up front and more as they begin to work on the arena again if they will work with him.

“I expected Walbridge-Aldinger would finish the arena all along,” Diaz-Verson said.

The plan is still a long way from done.

In fact, Mark Hildreth, an attorney for Walbridge-Aldinger, used the phrase, “If Mr. Diaz-Verson can pull a rabbit from a hat” to describe the upcoming events.

The judge set the foreclosure sale date in April to give Diaz-Verson one last chance. She said she was influenced by the fact that he has made three interest payments, totaling $180,000, since she started hearing the case.

Five years ago, DVA Arena announced plans to build and operate a hockey arena in Lakewood Ranch.The former president of AFLAC insurance company, Diaz-Verson said the arena would be multi-purpose, with part of it being a minor league hockey franchise.Creditors stopped getting paid by DVA Arena in 2005.