by James Coulter & Carl Fish
A local developer is defending against continued taxpayer funded litigation by the Lake Wales City Commission, Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and particularly the Vice Mayor (Vice Mayor Robin Gibson is the Chairman of the CRA) over alleged attempts to stymie his progress in renovating the Dixie WalesbiltHotel.
Ray Brown, a local developer who had purchased the hotel from the city to renovate the hotel nearly a decade ago, has defended against another lawsuit. He argues Gibson and the city had allegedly interfered with his renovation efforts in an alleged scheme to piggyback on his hard work and that of other developers and place the hotel under the city’s ownership. He claims a letter by Gibson submitted to the city on his letterhead, proves this alleged conspiracy true.
“I have been stymied by Robin Gibson for ten years now,” Brown said. “Based on all the evidence, I don’t think his intentions was ever good since day one.”
In a letter addressed to then City Manager Ken Fields on Dec. 8, 2014, Gibson mentions a “third option” to renovate the hotel that “should have been utilized with Ray Brown at the beginning but wasn’t.”
Gibson explains how Brown and his renovations fit into this “artful” plan:
“What will in all likelihood happen is that the entrepreneur will be unable to meet the requirement because reality overtakes optimism and he runs out of money, just like Ray Brown and the others before him.
But the reason it will eventually work is because the contract sets up the required expenditures in such a way that the improvements are necessary, useful, and are really in the building, and become the starting point for the next entrepreneur who builds on the shoulders of the predecessors. The more guaranteed expenditures are in the building the greater chance the succeeding entrepreneurs have of actually making it work.
In my view, Brown is the first step of the strategy. He has defaulted on his promises to the City, needs to move on, and leave his improvements behind.
The next guy will get the benefit of whatever Brown has really done and thereby have that much better and opportunity to make a go of it. In all, it may take two to three of these entrepreneurs before it eventually works.”
During a separate public meeting, Gibson was asked if the city would be able to take the hotel out of “private hands” and gain control of it to move forward with the remaining renovations.
Gibson answered that while the hotel is under “private hands”, that developer is subject to a building permit. That permit expires this month, and the city has the option to renew that permit for another six months. Gibson stated his intentions for the city not to renew, which Brown asserts is an allegedviolation of state building code.
“The City Commission will have to make the decision as to whether to extend that building permit. They may make the decision that they’ve waited long enough and to bring to bear the influence of the entire community to say do not extend that building permit,” Gibson said.
When asked what would happen afterward, Gibson replied, “Enforce the code violations and city take ownership.” And when prompted that the process could take two to three years, he responded that the city would “then move on with another developer. And that potential also builds a fire under the present developer [to] get things done.”
Complete copy of the letter:
Brown claims Gibson has attempted six legal maneuvers against him, and that the current legal maneuver is also taxpayer funded. Those alleged maneuvers included stop work orders filed against him on June 15, 2018, and alleged code violations brought against him on May 31, 2018.
Brown states his intentions since day one has been to restore the historic building to its former glory. He made a commitment to the city, and he wants to meet that commitment without interference.
“My plans and intentions have always been the same: to restore the hotel and make it an important function of downtown. Robin Gibson wants to stop that,” he said. “The people of Lake Wales are very supportive of the building. They are very supportive of me. I have a very good following on Facebook. And for the most part, the city officials have been very helpful with the exception of Robin Gibson using his position as a fiefdom.”
Mr. Brown contends that he has financing to move forward, but cannot due to litigation.
The Daily Ridge had contacted Mr. Gibson to comment on the litigation. He has yet to respond to our inquiries.
* Editors note: Mr. Brown advised the Daily Ridge should look into Vice Mayor Gibson’s recent business dealings in downtown Lake Wales. And whether is ethical or appropriate for Vice Mayor Gibson to be on CRA Board. We are looking into them and we will cover those in a future article.