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Attorney is removed from Midtown project
Syfan is an investor with firm seeking city land buy
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The Gainesville Redevelopment Authority agreed Friday to remove attorney Tread Syfan for any issues surrounding the a proposed hotel and office complex in Midtown.

The unanimous vote took place at a called meeting at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce building.

Before the vote, Syfan himself suggested that he not be involved in any matters involving Gainesville City Center LLC, the project’s developers.

Syfan told the board that he was involved first as counsel and then became an investor in City View Investments LLC, a corporation that includes Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell as owners, along with Syfan.

"In September of ’08, Billy Powell came to me and said he was negotiating for the purchase of the Regions Operations Center and asked for my help," Syfan told the authority. "Ultimately, he offered me an opportunity to invest with them and saw no conflict."

City View Investments has an offer pending to purchase the Regions Bank Operations Center in the former Town View Plaza. The transaction is tied up in litigation filed by Regions Financial Corp. against Gainesville City Center over driveway easements. The two properties are adjoining, and Regions previously had access to Bradford Street via the parking lot of Town View Plaza.

The authority’s action does not remove Syfan from serving as counsel on other legal matters.

City Manager Kip Padgett told the authority that the City Council was worried about the relationship with Syfan’s firm, Stewart, Melvin and Frost, on future business of the authority.

"The council has expressed grave concern and a loss of trust over the current law firm continuing as attorneys for the authority," Padgett said.

The panel, however, voted only to agree to find other counsel for issues with the City Center project.

Padgett, who was present at the meeting with most of the city council, said he would find a new attorney to represent the authority on matters related to Gainesville City Center.

Julius M. Hulsey, attorney for Gainesville City Center, told the authority that his client had invested more than $1.5 million in design costs for the proposed hotel, office and parking facility.

His clients are now named as defendants in a suit filed by Regions. The suit claims the easements for driveways were perpetual.

"My problem is not with the local Regions people," Hulsey said. "Some of them are good friends. My problem is with Regions corporate in Birmingham."

Hulsey said the deed for the operation center includes an easement that expired in 1994, 10 years after it was purchased.

Syfan bristled at Hulsey’s effort to lay out his case before the authority without opportunity for rebuttal.

"I think you should take what Mr. Hulsey says with a very large grain of salt," Syfan said.

Afterward, Syfan said the 10-year period only applied to paved parking areas and not driveways.

Hulsey said the city also conveyed a 50-foot strip adjoining Bradford Street to Gainesville City Center, and it was not included in the easement.

Wendell Starke, a partner in Gainesville City Center, said he made an offer to purchase the Regions Operation Center, but the bank never responded. Two letters, sent on July 9, 2007, offered the Alabama-based bank a price of $1.01 million for the 1.23-acre tract.

Starke said he hoped to raze the building and create a green space to complement the planned multistory development.

Syfan said that his groups due diligence period has been extended as a result of the lawsuit.