By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES - At Treasure Island Resort, there's anything but treasure. Unless broken glass, loose trash, overgrown vegetation and an empty building lined with graffiti is your idea of treasure.
But that's not gold in the eyes of city leaders. That's why they've fought to remove the abandoned hotel they consider "an eyesore," a once-thriving resort hotel destination that was damaged in the 2004 hurricanes and has since remained vacant. The problem: Attempts to clean up the property, possibly by restoring or demolishing the building, have been tied up in court battles.
But after years of code violations and nuisance litigation, officials are finally moving on a path toward removing the structure, taking the first step by unanimously approving a preliminary settlement agreement that requires, in the short term, that the hotel's owners clean up and remove debris from the property within 30 days at their expense.
"We filed this lawsuit thinking we were going to fight tooth and nail every step of the way," City Attorney Lonnie Groot said. "... We were surprised the parties attempted to resolve the matter."
The settlement also states the owners, identified as Treasure Island Resort Florida LLC, have one year to demolish or restore the building. If the property is brought up to code, city leaders will suspend litigation and forgive code violation fines. If not, the city could resume litigation, Mr. Groot said.
The city benefits from entering into the settlement because it would not cost the city any money to clean up debris on the hotel's property. In addition, the city would save imminent costs of moving forward with nuisance litigation, he said.
"What this settlement will do is avoid any upfront payments by the city for short-term or long term abatement," Mr. Groot said.
It's been years since Treasure Island Resort looked like a million bucks.
According to court documents and city staff, Daytona Beach-based hotel management group Bray & Gillespie formerly owned Treasure Island Resort, which closed in 2004 after sustaining hurricane damage. Bray & Gillespie hired Belfor USA, a disaster recovery and property restoration company, to renovate the hotel, but a dispute prevented the restoration from being completed and a city code enforcement lien was placed on the property in 2007.
Bray & Gillespie declared bankruptcy in 2008. Two years later, a bankruptcy judge declared RAIT Financial Trust, which holds a mortgage on the hotel property, has the right to acquire title to the property. Belfor challenged this in circuit court because it holds a lien on the property, and the Fifth District Court of Appeals is expected to determine who owns the property within the next six months.
City Council members are hopeful the "eyesore" hotel could finally be restored or removed after years of legal wrangling.
"I hope this is (the start of) opening up all the avenues so we can resolve this in about a year," Mayor Harry Jennings said.
Councilwoman Peggy Rice supported the settlement, saying she did not mind forgiving the code enforcement fees if the hotel's code violations are corrected, but acknowledged the process to get to where the city is today has been lengthy and drawn out.
"I think it's a good thing we forgive those (code enforcement fees)," Ms. Rice said. "Not that it's not aggravating because (the hotel's owners) have been so long in not doing their job while we've sat there and watched this ugly piece of property deteriorate."