Buyers hanging as condo project folds

An uptown condo tower's crumbling finances have sent the project into foreclosure. Now, buyers are wondering if they'll ever see their condos – or the money they invested in them.

The 21-story Park building, a skeleton of steel at Caldwell and Third streets, will be auctioned to the highest bidder at noon Aug. 7 at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Some condo owners have already filed lawsuits against The Park's developer, Verna & Associates, and others are talking of banding together to do the same, they said.

“We feel fooled, because we were told things that were not true,” said Raphael Goldstein, 59, who signed a contract four years ago on a condo for his college-age daughters. “I don't know what's going to happen, but I fear for the worst.”

The foreclosure order Tuesday in Mecklenburg Superior Court against Verna & Associates' development company, 222 South Caldwell Street Ltd. Partnership, ended months of uncertainty after work on the $43 million project stopped this spring.

According to court documents, the Charlotte-based developer defaulted on its $30.7million construction loan, which was to be paid by February. Verna owes more than $27 million to its lender, BB Syndication Services Inc. of Wisconsin.

In addition, contractors and others who worked on the condo tower have filed liens and lawsuits against the company, claiming more than $4.9 million in damages.

Verna & Associates officials did not return phone calls Wednesday. The lender's attorney, Tim Griffin of Poyner & Spruill in Charlotte, declined to comment.

Pete Verna, who led The Park project until he retired last year, announced plans for the tower in 2000. The luxury condo building was named for its planned rooftop park, which was to include a pool, fitness center and putting green. Condos were priced as high as $700,000.

In March, Verna told the Observer that work had slowed – but that the 106-unit tower was about 80 percent complete and could be finished by the fourth quarter. Nearly all of the units had been sold.

Goldstein, a real estate broker, put $35,000 down on his $300,000 condo in June 2004. He and his family liked the two-bedroom unit's sweeping view of the Bobcats arena and Verna's good reputation, he said.

Despite several delays, Goldstein didn't become concerned until about two months ago, when he drove by the building and noticed that work had stopped. A few days ago, he heard about the imminent foreclosure, he said.

Goldstein said he hopes someone can finish the condo tower. If not, he wants his money back. But he's worried that a clause in the contract which says the developer can spend owners' deposits once construction begins means his deposit is gone.

Work also stopped this year at 210 Trade, the uptown condo tower at the EpiCentre – part of a dispute between its developer and the EpiCentre's.

Two other towers have been postponed: One Charlotte, near the Westin, and 300 South Tryon.

The problems don't signal the end of the uptown condo market, though, said developer David Furman of Centro CityWorks. Units sold quickly at The Park and 210 Trade, he said.

“None of those were reflective of bad market conditions. (The Park) was ahead of most of the projects out there. The market loved it.”

Staff researcher Marion Paynter contributed.