Lawsuits plague Turner's Middle Branch developments

Crime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationJustice SystemEconomy, Business and FinanceRentalsPatrick TurnerServices and Shopping

One of Baltimore's most prolific developers faces two lawsuits for unpaid bills related to stalled urban renewal projects along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

A lawsuit against Turner Development's principal, Patrick Turner, and a second suit against a Turner-affiliated company are pending in Baltimore Circuit Court — asserting claims totaling more than $200,000.

The suits further complicate the development of prime waterfront real estate that has been slated for renewal, by Turner and others, for much of the last decade. But Turner said the suits are being resolved and that his massive mixed-use undertaking on the Middle Branch's western shore, Westport Waterfront, is still in the cards.

"It's on track, it's just a rough track," Turner said by phone Tuesday.

Westport currently is being refinanced, he said, and he hopes that infrastructure development can begin at the southern end of the 50-acre site early next year.

"We've just been cautious going forward," Turner said, since infrastructure costs at the site will range from $30 million to $40 million. The recession severely delayed his plans, like those of developers nationwide, he said.

Turner said he is in discussions with a national homebuilder to erect townhomes at Westport and an apartment developer to build rental units. An earlier plan for an apartment building built by Landex Development LLC, based in Linthicum, fell apart when Landex withdrew from the deal.

In 2010, when environmental remediation at Westport began, the cost of building Westport Waterfront was estimated at $1.2 billion and the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, partnered with Turner to finance some of the project. Carlyle remains involved in the project, Turner said. Carlyle spokeswoman Elizabeth Gill said Monday that the firm would not comment on the project.

Westport figures prominently in the resolution of both of the lawsuits Turner is working to resolve.

In June, the Center for Aquatic Life and Conservation Inc., a division of the National Aquarium, filed suit against Turner personally, alleging that he has not repaid a $115,000 loan.

The Center loaned the money to Dickman Street Development LLC, a company Turner had an interest in, when the firm purchased a piece of land in the Spring Garden Industrial Area, on the Middle Branch's eastern shore, from the Aquarium affiliate. The nearly seven-acre site previously housed a Baltimore Public Works Department maintenance garage.

The Center alleges Turner was supposed to repay the loan by the end of 2011. By the end of May, $9,000 in interest had accumulated on the loan, according to court filings.

"Since the principal amount of the Note became due on December 30, 2011, I have had numerous communications with Patrick Turner concerning payment of the Note," said John Racanelli, the National Aquarium's CEO, in a court filing. "Despite my repeated requests for payment, Mr. Turner has not made any payments due under the Note."

Turner said that his attorney is negotiating with the Center to transfer ownership of a piece of property on Cedley Street in Westport in order to satisfy the debt. Cedley Street is one block west of the Westport Waterfront development site, along Kloman Street.

Neil Ruther, Turner's attorney, confirmed that negotiations were taking place to settle the case but he would not discuss specifics. The Aquarium's attorney on the case, Jan I. Berlage, declined to comment because the litigation is active.

In early August, another suit relating to Turner's Middle Branch developments was filed. Dixie Construction Co. Inc. alleges that one of Turner's company's, Inner Harbor West LLC, still owes roughly $100,000 for wetland construction and soil capping the company performed at Westport Waterfront.

"We do owe them," Turner acknowledged.

The company will be paid, he said, when the Westport Waterfront refinancing is complete in the next few weeks. Ruther declined to comment on this case.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Shawn Pyle, Dixie's president, said he had been told the same by Turner.

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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