VENTURA : Port May Buy Part of Harbor Center

A Kansas-based bank has agreed to lend $8.4 million to the Ventura Port District to help retire the debt owed to original investors in the beleaguered Ventura Marina Village shopping center, a port official said Thursday.

If the loan deal with Merchants' Bank is closed by March 1 as planned, the port district could use the money to buy the title to about half the shopping center's buildings, said Richard Parsons, Ventura Harbor general manager.

The district already owns the land, but two banks--Great Western and Bank of America--own the buildings. The shopping center's former owner, Ocean Services Corp., declared bankruptcy in 1987.

Negotiations to sell Bank of America's interests to a Colorado hog farmer fell through last month, prompting district commissioners to pursue plans to buy the buildings.

The potential investor, Hayden Thompson of Denver, balked because the title was tied up in numerous lawsuits, said Ken Haymaker, a spokesman for Thompson. However, Parsons said Thompson acknowledged in an earlier agreement that the district could not guarantee a clear title to the shopping center buildings.

Meanwhile, a Bank of America lawsuit to force the port district to repay the bank's investments is scheduled to go to trial Monday.

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