Mobile home park purchase back on
A lawsuit is settled, leaving a developer with the contract and homeowners devastated.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2007
SEMINOLE - Luck seems to have run out for elderly homeowners who thought a lawsuit and the downturn in the housing market would prevent their mobile home park from being sold out from under them.
The lawsuit, between the owners of the Harbor Lights Mobile Home Park and buyer John Loder, has been settled. The result: Loder still has a contract on the property and plans to buy it.
"The lawsuits have all been settled, and the park's back under contract," Loder said Monday. "It's been a long time (since this began). I think it's been three years."
St. Petersburg attorney David Bacon, who represents the Travis family, which owns the park, said the only real change is that the lawsuit has been settled. Loder and the Travises, he said, have agreed on a "sunset date." If Loder does not buy the property by then, the contract will be null and void.
Bacon did not have the sunset date handy; Loder declined to say.
Loder has had well-chronicled financial problems in recent months, but said he has the financial backing to do the deal.
If the sale goes through, the deal will include both the mobile home park, at 9191 Bay Pines Blvd., and the adjacent Bay Pines Marina. The approximately 43 acres has an assessed value of about $15-million, according to the Pinellas County tax collector. The land, with its 309 mostly resident-owned mobile homes, fronts Long Bayou, just west of the Seminole Bridge.
Although the housing market is slow now, Loder said it's always wise to buy waterfront property.
"Right now is the time to buy," he said, adding that the market will eventually turn around.
Loder declined to talk about his plans for the property, except to say, "We do have some pretty aggressive plans." He also declined to say whether he intends to close the park, but "that's our normal course of business."
The news took park residents, most of whom own their homes but not the underlying land, by surprise. Pat Laczo, who has lived in the park for more than 18 years and serves on the board of the homeowners association, said rumors about the settlement had surfaced in the park.
But the owners thought they were safe because they were negotiating with the Travises, who own the East Madeira Corp., which holds title to the park.
"The residents of the park made an offer to the owners," Laczo said.
The Travises, she said, told the homeowners' representative that the family would get together and discuss the possibility of selling to them. But that was weeks ago.
"We haven't heard back from them," she said. "I don't know what kind of game they're playing."
Bacon, the Travises' attorney, said he was unaware that homeowners had made a formal offer to buy the park. If they're serious, Bacon said, he and his clients are willing to consider the offer.
Loder's original offer was $60-million, which was later upped to $62-million. When the unsolicited sale was announced, Loder's Sun Vista Development Group said it planned a $300-million project with nearly 400 residences, including townhomes, single-family dwellings and luxury condominiums. Prices were to range from $600,000 to $1.75-million. Buyers would have first choice of boat slips and docks.
He put a $2-million deposit on the property.
The closing came and went. The Travises declared the contract null and sued Loder, but apparently settled the suit July 23 when an agreement to dismiss the case was signed. The agreement was not filed with the court until Aug. 10, when the Travis lawsuit was dismissed.
Harbor Lights would be the second large parcel that Loder has bought on Seminole's southern border. He acquired the nearby 52-acre Bay Pines Mobile Home Park and two smaller parcels that were surrounded by the park, at 10005 Bay Pines Blvd. That, with Harbor Lights, totals about 100 acres.
Loder closed Bay Pines and has razed the mobile homes and taken out some pine trees, with the city's permission. He has ground up the asphalt roads so the material can be recycled.
Loder declined to say what he has planned for the Bay Pines property.
"We've seen 50 different drafts of site plans ... everything from single family to condo to townhomes."
The work at Bay Pines is going better than expected, Loder said, so now "it's time to get back on track" with Harbor Lights.
Harbor Lights history
Spring-early summer 2002: East Madeira Corp., run by the Travis family, asks to annex the Harbor Lights Mobile Home Park and adjacent Bay Pines Marina into the city of Seminole.
June 2005: John Loder's Sun Vista Development Group makes an unsolicited offer to buy the park and the marina.
July 2005-October 2005: Harbor Lights residents appear repeatedly before the Seminole City Council, pleading with the members to help them. The council says it can do nothing.
September 2005: The initial closing is postponed and Loder increases his initial $60-million offer to $62-million.
November 2005: The date of the closing passes. The Travises declare the sales contract void. Loder says he still wants to buy the park. Everyone heads to court.
Spring-summer 2007: Park homeowners once again investigate the possibility of buying the park for themselves.
August 2007: The lawsuits are settled. A final deadline is set for Loder to purchase the property or the contract dies.