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Land deal brings an end to City Center lawsuit

Gainesville City Center will buy disputed property from Regions

POSTED: June 6, 2009 12:49 a.m.

Regions Financial Corp. and the developers of a high-rise hotel and office complex in Midtown Gainesville have ended a five-month-long lawsuit over access to the bank’s property, an attorney for Regions confirmed Friday.

The lawsuit was over the bank’s alleged right to access the Regions Operations Center through property owned by Gainesville City Center. It ended with an arrangement for Gainesville City Center to purchase the Regions Operations Center.

Regions filed the lawsuit in January, claiming that Gainesville City Center violated the bank’s right to access its operations center from Bradford Street.

The bank pointed to a 25-year-old deed that granted access to the Regions Operations Center through the former Town View Plaza property.

However, the developers of Gainesville City Center, who plan to build a high-rise hotel, office buildings and a pedestrian bridge over Jesse Jewell Parkway on the old Town View Plaza property, said the rights of access granted in the deed expired in 1994.

The lawsuit was a point of contention between the city and the county. Officials from both entities had an interest in its outcome.

City officials said the lawsuit impeded progress on their long-awaited Midtown Redevelopment project. They also relieved Tread Syfan from his duties as attorney for the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority because of his involvement with the lawsuit.

Syfan previously brokered a deal for the city to sell its police and fire headquarters on Jesse Jewell Parkway to Gainesville City Center. He had a contract to purchase the Regions Operations Center property with two Hall County commissioners, Tom Oliver and Billy Powell, under a limited liability corporation called City View Investments when Regions filed its lawsuit against the developers.

At the time, Commission Chairman Oliver, who was a party to City View Investments, said the group had no interest in purchasing the bank property without the easements.

Attorneys for Gainesville City Center tried to name Syfan, Oliver and Powell to the list of plaintiffs in the lawsuit because the three stood to benefit from the lawsuit.

However, no judges ever ruled on any of the motions filed by the attorneys after all of Hall County’s Superior Court judges recused themselves from the case in late March.

Steve Gilliam, the local attorney representing the bank, said the absence of a judge to rule sped along negotiations between the two parties.

“We didn’t have any judges to rule on the motions and there as a lot of uncertainty sitting out there,” Gilliam said. “We didn’t know when we were going to get a judge.”

The two reached an agreement this week when Gainesville City Center bought the contract that City View Investments had to purchase the bank property, Gilliam said. Gilliam said he did not know the price Gainesville City Center paid for the property, but said that the sale agreement allowed Regions to lease the property for one year with the possibility for two six-month extensions.

A message for Lee Caswell, an owner of Gainesville City Center, seeking comment was not returned Friday.

Oliver, Powell and Syfan, the members of City View Investments, LLC, also were not available for comment Friday. Gilliam said everyone he had talked to was happy with the settlement.

“Regions wanted to sell that building and now they have sold it and so they’re extremely pleased,” Gilliam said. “Gainesville City Center wanted to acquire the property and move forward with their project, and this allows them to do that.”

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, whose district includes Gainesville, said he thinks the lawsuit will be a learning experience.

“It’s good for the city for that project to have one less hurdle,” Bell said. “Hopefully from this there could be some lessons learned as far as ways we can avoid these things happening in the future. I would hope all elected officials can take note to how our private business dealings can affect our lives as elected officials.”

Melissa Weinman contributed to this story



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