The historic Coral Gables Country Club is open for business as usual. For now, anyway.
While content may have been “seized” Wednesday by a bizarre court order in the middle of the night amid a dispute between the city and operators, fundraisers, birthday parties and galas are planned until the end of the month. . There was a wedding there on Saturday with 335 guests.
The Coral Gables Athletic Club is open for training and you can even grab a coffee or ice cream at the Liberty Caffé.
It’s almost as if nothing had happened. As if the Miami-Dade police didn’t show up unannounced Wednesday morning to evict the operators from the property and seize their equipment, furniture, documents, computers, inventory – everything. As if the city hadn’t obtained a secret court order in the middle of the night, to appoint a “receiver” – supposedly an impartial and neutral third party charged with “protecting” the assets – after deducing that the operators wanted strip the place clean up. As if the city hadn’t ordered a 24/7 police presence – later canceled – to stop them doing just that.
Coral Grand and the Di Donato family are still running things until the end of April, which is the deal they reached with the city last year after the city opted not to renew their lease.
Related Read: Fight Against Coral Gables Country Club Intensifies With Eviction And Foreclosure
The only difference now is that they have a babysitter: Lawyer Joel Brown was charged by the Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Carlos Lopez safeguard the historical heritage of the city while everyone determines what belongs to the public and what belongs to the operators. We think.
Because the judge’s order, provided to Ladra by the city, cannot be found online at the Miami-Dade Clerk’s website. There is no judge’s name and information printed on it, just his illegible signature. There are not the names of a million lawyers under “copies provided to”, it just says “lawyer of record”. There is no timestamp. This is unlike any other court decision.
Di Donato’s lawyer, David Wincker, says it unsuccessfully sought a formal court order and filed motions to dissolve it and render moot any action by the receiver. “This order has not been submitted to the court. I dispute its validity,” he told Ladra.
He was a little more dramatic in his motion to overturn the receivership, which quotes Karl Marx on the theory of communism boiling down to the abolition of private property.
“In nearly thirty years of practice, I have never seen such a blatant attempt to abuse the Court as Plaintiff’s corrupt effort to steal Defendant’s private property,” Winker wrote. “American citizens don’t normally have to worry about government officials getting secret orders in the middle of the night to seize their private property.”
There’s a hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday.
In the meantime, the court order puts Coral Gables Country Club and all of its contents, along with bank accounts and computer records, in the receiver’s possession — but the Di Donatos are still running things. After all, there is an event for St. Stephen’s Episcopal School on Tuesday, a wedding rehearsal on Thursday, a graduation with 180 guests on Friday, and a baby girl’s 2nd birthday party with 35 guests.
city manager Pierre Iglesias did not return Ladra’s calls. The city released a statement on his behalf.
“To protect a valuable and historic city asset, the Coral Gables Country Club petitioned the city and a judge granted an emergency injunction appointing Joel H. Brown, Esq. as receiver on April 12. This helps ensure a smooth transition of operations from the current operator.
Additionally, a receiver was needed as the current operators have stated that they will be removing many items that are part of this facility, not only causing extensive damage to this historic building, but delaying the restart of operations. In fact, yesterday when Coral Grand management was asked to vacate the premises, they attempted to remove the computer server and other items in the presence of the receiver.
The city is committed to working cooperatively with the receiver as it operates the club and protects the interests of all residents of Coral Gables.
It is important that Fitness Club members and entities and/or individuals who have events scheduled at the club this month are assured that the Coral Gables Country Club remains open and operational.
But the whole thing looks like a government takeover of a private entity. A club shot.
The city’s position is that they were stolen. They accuse the Di Donatos at least since 2020 of concealing profits (read: stealing) so as not to have to pay participation rent. These accusations came 10 years after the lease was first signed and just as it was being renewed – and were perfectly timed with an offer to take over operations by a politically connected led group of investors. Rodney Barretto. It was withdrawn after widespread backlash from the community, rejecting what everyone feared was an internal deal that would change the character of the iconic club.
Related Read: Coral Gables Country Club takeover deal is dead as Rodney Barreto’s band pulls out
The bad blood between the Di Donatos and the city continued to boil. The city, which can only deny renewal if the operators are in default, says the operators are in default of base rent and participation. However, they did not provide any evidence and put the blame on the operators, saying they failed to hand over audited financial statements.
Mayor Vince Lago said in September that the city manager was conducting an audit. But they can’t do that without consulting the operators’ books.
“They didn’t keep their end of the bargain,” Lago told Ladra. “They haven’t been transparent. They haven’t been up front.”
He said the city had to spend $2 million on the building over the past year to make repairs and replace the roof, and inspectors found a lot had been done without the proper permits.
Either way, the city has decided that its parks and recreation department will run the club (read: nobody else wants it). Why not? They run the youth center, don’t they? It’s a set up for failure so City can say they’re lucky when Barreto comes back to save the day. In the meantime, the municipal commission has already approved a budget of $1.8 million for a staff of 31 new municipal employees. These include the gym manager and most, if not all, of the club’s employees.
But the town will also need kitchen and gym equipment, lockers, pool chairs, umbrellas, banquet chairs and tables, chandeliers, planters, sofas in the bridal suite, mirrors and alabaster elements, just to start. Or they’re going to have to make a significant investment and delay a reopening.
Members of Athletic Club are already concerned, and rightly so, that they will not be able to use the equipment on May Day. Ladra would venture to say that the city administration is also scared and that is why all this is happening.
There’s a whole inventory list of things that belong to the Di Donatos, not the city, as listed on the settlement agreement. The city wants it. They got an appraisal that says the whole thing is worth $370,000 in total. Including chandeliers, exercise equipment and industrial kitchen appliances.
Looks lowball. Can the city get all of this for $370,000 on the market?
It’s a ridiculous offer, say the Di Donatos. “If you have to build a restaurant, it’s much more than that,” Anthony Di Donato told Ladra.
They value their business at around $1 million. Looks like they could have settled somewhere in the middle. They would rather sell it for that than pay to bring it all back to Canada. But sources on both sides report the city and the operators were at an impasse.
“I have a responsibility to operate on behalf of the residents and I have a certified appraisal from a reputable company that provides value for the FFE,” Lago told Ladra, referring to the facilities, furnishings and furnishings. ‘equipment. “And the tenant does not want to negotiate.”
In an April 12 email to Zeida Sardiniaasset manager at the city’s economic development department – copied from Iglesias and deputy city manager Alberto Parjus – patriarch Nick Di Donato says of Toronto:
“I have not received a response from you on this subject and I would like to understand the City’s position on this subject. We want a smooth and amicable transition and want to confirm that we are able to begin removing the movable property and equipment listed in our settlement agreement effective May 1, 2022.
“I would appreciate an answer so that we can begin our preparations. Thank you.”
The answer: A few hours later, the same day, the city, arguing that the Di Donatos were going to clean up the place, went to court with the urgent motion — filed just before 8 p.m. — to have a receiver appointed. The next time the Di Donatos hear from town, the police will show up.
Two weeks before they’re about to leave, a receiver arrives with the police and says, “Give me all the keys and all the passwords and get the hell out of here.” Fundamentally.
Related Read: Coral Gables Lawyers Drop WaWa Lawsuit Defense to Seek Alternatives
The city’s motion for receivership said the operators “created an alter ego corporation” to operate the fitness center. “By hiding this information, the Di Donatos deprived the city of crucial data needed to calculate the percentage of rent owed,” it read. “The city presumes that the Di Donatos’ motive in establishing and concealing this tenant-subtenant relationship was to obtain a windfall at the citizens’ expense.”
They probably told the judge that Coral Grand ripped them off so they could go through the books and see if they could make a case for keeping the items as payment due.
The Di Donatos say the arrangement has been the same all along and the city knew about it. “The city gave us a certificate of use. The mayor gave us an award,” Anthony Di Donato told Ladra, referring to the Athletic Club and the former mayor. “The city is just creating fear so they can do whatever they want. We have been harassed long enough.
When Ladra asked the city attorney Miriam Ramos which items belonged to the operators and which belonged to the city, she said was yet to be determined. And that’s weird because there’s a list of items in the settlement agreement and a list of items that have been assessed and an offer made on the purchase of said items so it looks like it’s already been determined that these things belong to the operators.
The city may want a regardingdetermination by the court based on what they say is property rent.