DEVELOPERS SEEK BP SETTLEMENT FOR FAILED COMMERCIAL PROJECT (AL.COM)
Apr 11, 2011
By Kathy Jumper, Press-Register
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. -- Village of Tannin developers are hopeful that BP PLC will pay a $15 million settlement to jump-start a lakeside commercial project in the Orange Beach planned community that faltered during the oil spill.
In exchange, George Gounares and his son, Peter, will donate 22 acres in Tannin to either the city or state, and give a year's free rent in the development's 47 shops to help owners get those businesses established.
The acreage has been appraised at $13 million, Gounares said.
The 60-acre Tannin on Ala. 182 is across the highway from the Gulf with a half-mile of frontage on the beach road.
BP and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility have already denied several claims filed by the Gounareses, according to the developers. They promise a new, $30 million claim that will be filed quickly if BP does not agree to fund the seed money for the commercial development they call Georgetown.
The developers have also contacted city and state officials in an effort to get them a meeting with BP claims representatives.
"We could sit here and wait for a check from BP," George Gounares said. "But we want to stop being negative and be positive and go forward. We'd be taking a lot less than what we're giving."
Brett/Robinson receives $37.2 million
At least one other commercial developer has taken a check from BP to move a beach project forward. Brett/Robinson received $37.2 million to finish the 31-story Phoenix West II condominium tower, across the road from Tannin in Orange Beach. The oil spill brought sales to a halt at the $245 million project, which delayed construction.
In exchange, developers and the people who had already bought into the condominium project promised not to sue BP or other companies involved in the Gulf spill.
The Georgetown commercial center was supposed to tie into a $160 million, gulf-front Wyndham & Winfield Resort Hotel and Convention Center. Developer K.C. Chiang planned the hotel complex on land across the highway from Tannin, but investors pulled out of that project after the oil spill.
The Gounareses said that the city had approved pedestrian walkways over Ala. 182 to connect Georgetown to both the hotel complex and Phoenix West II.
The hotel developers planned to pay the Gounareses $2 million for a couple of acres on Tannin's western portion, using it for parking and a construction staging area, according to attorney Stephen Olen of Cunningham Bounds, who represents the Gounareses.
The hotel group was also to pay the Gounareses $350,000 to waive deed restrictions Tannin held on a beachfront parcel where the hotel was to be built, he said.
Olen said that Chiang has received some claims money over the failed hotel deal, which demonstrates that BP agreed the development was hurt by the oil.
BP payment 'embarrassing'
Chiang called BP's payment -- just over $600,000 -- "embarrassing."
"I spent $11 million on costs myself," Chiang said.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said he has no doubts that the oil spill killed the hotel project.
"Financing was difficult to begin with, but with the oil spill it was impossible to find anybody to finance projects with all the unknowns," he said. "I don't want people to think we are trying to promote rich, fat-cat developers. But this could be 1,000 jobs for Orange Beach. This oil spill is continuing to hurt our overall economy."
Tannin backs up to Gulf State Park, and the 22 acres they would donate on the western portion of Tannin, is at the entrance to the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.
All of Tannin's 71 residential lots have been sold for years, with many already resold, the Gounareses said.
Tannin was designed by architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who also planned Seaside in Destin, Fla. About a dozen beach cottage-style homes line the cobblestone streets.
Most of the lot owners have not built homes, which gives the perception that not much development is going on, according to Peter Gounares. They have built two lakes, a town center, an Olympic-sized pool and have been working on Georgetown for more than two years.
Georgetown is planned as a pedestrian-friendly shopping area with stores and restaurants with outdoor seating, all overlooking the lakes.
"The beach needs some life, it needs a spark," Peter Gounares said. "This will be a huge tourist attraction and bring people back to the Gulf. Our goal is to let people know what we're offering. We want people to understand that this plan is good for everybody. And it will create hundreds of jobs."