Here is a LEARNING opportunity.
When I’m tired and I can’t sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep. HAH.
No, I DO count my blessings, of which there is an endless stream. Yet in these jam-packed days my pre-frontal cortex is often involuntarily wrenched into a sharp left turn, to the big-fat OBSESSIVE lobe, the lobe where disturbing thoughts DWELL, where in THESE troubled times the VERY SAME unanswered question, over and over and over burbles and marinates and ferments, (I am VERY big into fermentation, and one of the often overlooked blessings of a life in Town Center is the opportunity to see LOTS of bacteria in action. It’s EVERYWHERE, really.)
Isolating my point here,THE GREAT unanswerable question, the Razor’s Edge of my quest, the question which holds its own alongside such ALL TIME great QUESTIONS as chicken/egg?, tree/forest?, cat/box? is Lexin/Plan.?
My extensive online searches have yet to produce even one streaming view inside the clanging, erratic, cash-clogged Windmills of Metin Negrin’s Mind. Consequently I have had to create my OWN, completely imaginary view of a possible Lexin BUSINESS PLAN.* and have had to do it working backwards (as if I were writing notecards for a report, which is ALSO the only way notecards truly work out.)
I mean it, just WHAT is the PLAN The Wizard of Lexin has for Town Center? APPRECIATION, DEPRECIATION and ROI are often listed Goals for Real Estate Investors. SO Methodical DISINTEGRATION is a SURPRISING addition, particularly in the NUMBER ONE spot, as it is here in Town Center. Since 2004 when Disney met Lexin and the Town Center Death Dance began Maintenance in all its forms has been systematically and WILLFULLY ignored.
In WHAT Business Plan does this become logical? How do you take an investment of no SMALL magnitude and leave it outside in the rain, unprotected from the ravaging Florida Sun and the Impressive Florida Rain? Just like an unloved sweater.
FORGET the fact that we Town Center Owners had faith in The Promises of Extremely well paid lawyers. We cheerfully booked our cabins on The Lexin Titanic with all the confidence in the world that Our Captain was NOT bat-shit crazy, and would NEVER NEVER NEVER set an iceberg-attracting compass on the auto pilot.
But this ongoing philosophy, at first leaving us in Town Center looking, like a bit of Celebration Shabby-Chic next to the other PRISTINE villages, seemed to be an anomaly. Over time however a methodical pattern made itself apparent. In the TWELVE years since Lexin began captaining our little ship there has not been ONE significant example of preventive maintenance. The FIRST roof repair-other than some tar and muscovy feather patching-was at 709 Bloom Street, in 2014 and remains a MASSIVE failure.
There have been some laughable attempts at painting during which the on-staff Lexin workers, uninstructed in the ways of professional equipment such as “drop-cloths” and “ladders”were slowed by constantly having to pick mulch, or rotted wood out of their brushes, and an impromptu “average height” evaluation of the staff could be made by seeing just how high they could paint on their tippy-toes.
Over the years the Mortgage on the town has gone UP, UP, UP.
And the estimated costs of REPAIRS has gone UP, UP, UP.
Yet Lexin’s commitment to maintenance has remained level. Most of the funds handed over to the Foundation are for OPERATIONS. Massive electricity, massive trash, massive insurance, vague items which hardly seem to be of “SHARED-BENEFIT” value to unit owners are on our bill.
This introductory essay seeks to trigger thought and conversations about what might be below the water-line where bottom feeders dwell. If one simply looks at the facts-the equity has been stripped, the repairs needed are monumental and the situation is now obvious and dangerous to the residents. Is the LACK of systematic maintenance and the removal of equity the PLAN itself? There are some pretty dire possibilities if one dares to explore THAT part of Metin’s mind.
If I had been so fortunate as to purchase Town Center I would have immediately bought crisp and fine looking painter’s garb from the Uniform Section of the Land’s End website. AND I would be reading This Old House TUTORIALS night and day, The BEST roofing company in Florida would be on my SPEED DIAL.And I would have populated my management company with skilled communicators who perceived their FIRST and FOREMOST raison d’être to treat the buildings and their occupants as RESPECTED partners in an extraordinary venture. EVERYBODY on staff would be able to recognize CAULK, even carrying CAULK GUNS on their belts.
*That is my official disclaimer as everything written here is conjecture, intended to induce a zen-like objective calm over any attorney who might happen upon this post.
Saying “parking” to a Celebration resident can produce an effect similar to saying “squirrel” to a golden retriever-one observes the same instant tensing of every bone in their bodies, the same piercing stare followed by profuse drooling. It’s not pretty, and I, for one ALWAYS carry a wadded up paper towel in my pocket, just in case I encounter a neighbor who needs assistance with their chin.
Back when I moved to Celebration I was a Parking Denier. (As I am writing parts of this for dramatic effect I want to throw in a personal DISCLAIMER to the effect that I still believe we should ALL ditch our cars anyway, transport our groceries and ourselves via Disney Magic with a boost from our God-Given FEET.) But Celebration Town Center/2016 is HARDLY what it was when Barbara Muenks oversaw an impeccable Market Street, the masterpiece of Urban Design, the product of the 20th centuries finest town planners and architects. THEN Unknown Cast Members in Higher Places made the misguided decision to pass the ownership torch for The Walt Disney Company’s Magnum Opus to an over-reaching fledging investor. Metin Negrin, and Lexin Capital then AND now, display NO knowledge of, or affection FOR the extraordinary PLACE they somehow managed to impale and pull into their sticky web. Ka-ching, ka-ching.
Within 24 hours of closing on Town Center Lexin had sold off both Carlyle lots. And within the year they had sold the now converted apartments at prices you would not NEARLY achieve today, 12 years later. Ka-ching, ka-ching.
I was drawn to Celebration by the attention to detail, by the cornerstones, by loftier aspirations, by the use of architecture and place to create community, by all of it. Preceded by hundreds and followed by thousands of others who share my feelings, I stand in dismay in the beautiful, beautiful Town Center, where Michael Graves compact little Post Office has columns which are crumbling at the bases. If he had not died two years ago I would call him up and sob with him.
Okay, back to the PARKING. I think we can ALL agree that Lexin LOVES restaurants. If I had to guess I would suggest that it is because, just as Al Capone LOVED banks, Metin LOVES restaurants because that is where the MONEY is. And Money, I opine, is what Metin loves most.
Since 2004 Lexin has added an estimated 450 (FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY) restaurant seats to Town Center. To do that he converted the former and BELOVED Goodings’ to the Thai-Thani, the former DayDreams to Sweet Escapes, the former HopScotch to the Wine Imperium, ADDED 50 seats to Cafe’D’Antonio, added the massive outdoor bar to the Town Tavern, added Le Macaron, 80 seats to the Columbia, took over the former Celebration Store for Avocado. I am stopping there, my list may be incomplete but you get the picture.
Restaurants require a GREAT DEAL more Care and Feeding per square foot than retail establishments. As they feed SO many, they need to be fed SO much. Where a retail store may get a UPS or FedEx delivery daily, restaurants such as D’Antonio’s require FRESH vegetable, FRESH meat, FRESH canned tomatoes, cases of wine, bread, linens, loads of wood, much like YOUR shopping list if you were cooking for a few thousand plus or minus.
This is a LOT of HEAVY trucks lumbering up and down the pot-hole ridden Celebration Avenue, and despite VERY SPECIFIC regulations regarding the use of loading areas, ain’t NOBODY caring where the trucks park. As my husband used to say about the cars in Rio de Janeiro they are not so much PARKED as ABANDONED. Such is the case with Town Center deliveries. Lexin NEVER instructs their vendors, many of whom also appear to be challenged, similar to our British visitors, about which side of the STREET they should be occupying. I am certainly hoping that their legendary “attention to detail” carries through to their liability insurance. But I am not betting on it.
Impact fees in Osceola County are dependent on use and retail is ONE space per x customers while restaurants are THREE spaces. We are down about 900 parking spaces I think, which explains a lot. I have dug a bit in the permits and have yet to find an additional impact fee paid. There may be some there, if anybody locates one, be sure and let me know.
Town Center residents have lived in alternating states of ennui, anger and frustration, trying to cobble thousands of documentation shards together into a story which can be tracked and comprehended by many, if not all or even MOST. Frustration on the part of our intermittent audience has resulted in our group being pegged as top-seeded whiners,unwilling to take action, only willing to drone on about issues and not TA-DA! the SOLUTION.
We feel your pain. We SHARE your pain.
In our defense the problems in Town Center are SO complex and AMORPHOUS that a Venn diagram requires an endless roll of paper. (At this point I will mention that a future post will be nothing BUT a Venn Diagram)
Yet today is a benchmark in our quest, a day for celebrating a First Step as we toddle towards Mother Justice, who is living in Kissimmee at the Osceola County Circuit Court.
Celebration, Florida’s Town Center Condominium Association (The Association) today filed suit in Osceola County Circuit Court against Lexin Capital,LLC and the Town Center Foundation (TCF), alleging that the 12 condominium buildings containing 105 units are in a “colossal state of disrepair” and have suffered from “pervasive sustained moisture intrusion with resulting rot of structural components and of interior components with related termite infestation.” The Association contends that TCF has breached its contractual and fiduciary obligations to unit owners to properly maintain the Condominium Component Facilities and Unit Exteriors and seeks to prosecute for negligent maintenance.
The Condominiums are located in Town Center, the heart of the new urban community of Celebration, Florida and were constructed by the Walt Disney Company in 1995.
The Association contends that years of neglect and lack of maintenance have allowed the buildings to deteriorate, and conditions now represent a danger to the residents. As Celebration approaches its 20th anniversary this November the state of decay has reached a crisis level. Owners cite years of water intrusion damage to the interiors of their units, mold,wood rot, sagging floors and bubbling stucco.
Residents in 16 Units on Bloom Street have been living in an opaque tarp cocoon since January, owner Sheila Slutsky moved to temporary housing after tests showed dangerous levels of mold. 91 year-old Ruth Uffelmann remains a virtual captive. Expanding wall cracks and shaking balconies on 660 Celebration Avenue are of great concern to Emily and Frank Cooper, who first reported leaning floors to Lexin in 2008, their requests for assistance were ignored. On April 12 Osceola County Building Inspectors filed a complaint against Lexin, citing unsafe structural issues.
In 2004 Disney/The Celebration Company sold Town Center to Lexin Capital, a New York Real Estate Investment Firm. Lexin converted the residential apartments in 12 of Town Center’s 21 buildings to a condominium and formed The Association, as well as TCF, a master association with control over all 21 buildings. The governing documents of TCF provide “all maintenance, repair and replacement of the Component Facilities and the exteriors of all buildings will be performed by the Foundation and the cost thereof will be included in the assessments made pursuant to the Foundation Declaration.” Lexin Capital LLC has retained control of the TCF Board of Directors at all times since conversion.
In January of 2015 TCF hired Dan Dixon, Architect LLC, to inspect and analyze Town Center building problems and create a detailed report. Following this TCF commenced construction repair on Association buildings. TCF has refused to provide The Association with Dixon’s detailed engineering study and to allow experts hired by the Association access to the construction site. The Association believes it has a potential legal claim against Lexin for its failure to timely file a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company for negligent construction of the 12 buildings which contained the condominiums, and instead is attempting to pass off the costs to the unit owners. They contend that critical evidence to these claims is being destroyed or discarded without the Association’s experts being able to shadow the process.
In February, 2016 TCF Director and Lexin Capital Manager Metin Negrin informed Association that an assessment in excess of $4,000,000 was to be imposed on the unit owners for repairs, the first in a series to be levied over coming years.
As shown in Public Documents Lexin Capital has twice refinanced Town Center since its 2004 purchase, the last time in May of 2015, the timing coincidental to the Dixon’s Engineers report. Both times it has removed significant equity without any evidence of capital being reinvested in the town.
Trundle past the increasingly pale and wan Suntrust Bank towards Market Street-Actually it might be BEST if you crossed Celebration Avenue at Sycamore and continued on the Imagination Realty/Waterstreet Condominiums side. I suggest this as the Chief Inspector from the Osceola County Building Office came to Celebration yesterday, resulting in the following notice.
So I am thinking that walking near those balconies MIGHT not be advisable any time in the near future. Not that any of the REST of the structures in Town Center are better off, their secrets remain secure (hahaha) behind Celebration’s Premier building envelope system, Some Kind of Stucco-Like Product on Green Wood, therefore the extent of their structural damage is hidden from us as much as possible.After ALL, this is NOT our business.
Metin Negrin/Lexin Capital/TCF- retained Dan Dixon early in 2015-ostensibly to perform an engineering report on all of the buildings in Town Center so that, under Town Hall/CNOA’s tutelage he might “spiff-up” the downtown-(emphasis and verbiage are mine) but interestingly enough The Report was COINCIDENTAL to the timing of a REFINANCING of Celebration Town Center. A document such as this would have been essential to the procurement of such a significant loan-it is in excess of $34,000,000, and replaced a 2007 mortgage in the amount of $23,000,000, plus or minus.(While NOT a math wiz I will suggest that Mr. Negrin took MORE than 10 but LESS than 12 MILLION dollars back to his lair-after closing costs, of course.
SO, I am thinking a loan like that, he would have needed a NICE engineering study from a licensed Architect to add GRAVITAS to his appraisal. (Actually Lexin Gravitas sounds like one of the DOZENS of LLC’s under which he operates-OH NO I STAND CORRECTED, IT IS LEXIN VERITAS, which I find hysterical.) True enough, Mr. Dixon did NO destructive testing in his analysis. But the final document was quite EXTENSIVE and, according to Mr. Dixon, ran about 485-FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE- pages. Now THAT is a report.
We owners yearned-and continue to live lives of GREAT yearning-to grip a copy of that report. And we have tried, and tried again, through a virtual CURLING TEAM of attorneys to GET A LOOK at an honest overview of just what shape our homes are in, to know what to expect, how we can move forward.
I was always afraid of an overdue library book, so remain stunned that those crisp letters on VERY expensive paper which are delivered, with signatures required, can be SO totally ignored. Wow. There is a LOT more to this topic however I need a glass of Gin before I can deliver a pithy synopsis. (Is it “pithy” or “pissy”, I always get those two confused.)
I do want to very quickly add that earlier we received a 15 page “summary” and ALL is well, so don’t worry anymore.
Other than believing that “cleanliness is next to godliness” one of my longest standing convictions was that The Walt Disney Company, particularly in the Magic Kingdom, believed 100% in Truth, Justice and Charming, RELATABLE spaces. SCRUBBED and MAINTAINED spaces. That the Disney Standards Handbook had been authored by someone on Work Release from the Clinic for the Helplessly OCD.
Years into my long, long, life I learned firsthand that Disney “Front of House” and Disney “Back of House” can be very, very, different. Another Disney World really. A bit OCD myself, I spent many a happy 40-minutes-out-of- every-hour gathering trash from the perimeter of various character break rooms, wondering at why this was.
And in Celebration Town Center this pattern has been replicated by Lexin. Of course HERE the dramatic juxtaposition is MUCH less, as Lexin and TCF do not REALLY give a Flying Fig about the FRONT of House OR the BACK of House. To Metin Negrin the World is a giant spreadsheet on which there appears to be some virtue (benefit) in presenting an-if not GOOD, then marginally BETTER-PUBLIC face, the better to encourage one’s appetite AND along the way maintain-in an extraordinarily marginal way-NOT the buildings, but the CASH FLOW to his FAVORITE parts of Town Center, the Restaurants.
Just how much cash flows past our greasy walkways and into our greasy parking lots will be the topic of an upcoming post, but one does not have to be channeling Warren Buffett to see that in THIS tiny town Restaurants TRUMP (sorry) retail.
At last circling back to my elusive point; what YOU might see, as a visitor to Town Center, is NOT what WE, as residents, GET.
I know plenty of people who build their lives around All Things Mickey Mouse, EVERY vacation is a Disney Vacation. A group profile might reveal a broad mix of Conservative Adventure Seekers, collectively enjoying the mild terror as they wander in a romantic land where the elevator ALWAYS breaks its fall, even Halloween is Not-So-Scarey. Safely exciting days are filled with expertly risk managed experiences, at the end of which all return to spiffy themed guest rooms, air conditioners are set on arctic high and a bottomless tumbler full of some Coca-Cola product rehydrates and replenishes the perspiration expended on a central Florida summer day. These are the Disney Brand True Believers.
Ears and pins are purchased, Disney Vacation Club Points eagerly sucked up by True Believers. And daring to dream beyond the dream they are already IN, True Believers imagine their own lives spent where every detail of their physical world would be as obsessively detailed and immaculate as Town Square in the Magic Kingdom. At this point in the narrative enters the Ultimate Disney Souvenir, a home in the Town of Celebration.
It hardly seems unrealistic on their part to assume that home ownership in Disney’s Town of Celebration would come with an insurance policy which, while it MIGHT not contain coverage on items such as “disappointment”, would certainly imply a home warranty matching the legendary standards of excellence and quality assurance solidly embedded in the Disney Brand. After all, Celebration Rules and Covenants run to thousands of pages- HOW your home looked was Everybody’s Business. Wrong plants? Wrong mailbox?, Wrong curtains?, Stained sidewalk? Boo Hoo. Nut up.
Standards abounded, and True Believers EMBRACED the Standards. I said more than once that I did not need to see someone with 43 shopping bags and a battered Publix cart sleeping on a sewer grate to fully feel the pain of homelessness. I too want it nice. After all, Walt himself had taken such pride in his immaculate parks, providing trash bins every 23 feet, re-painting and scrubbing all night long, believing that if things were neatly kept it would encourage visitors to his parks to embrace the same standards. The average lifespan of a piece of litter in Disneyland is 15 seconds-as it has been since 1988. These people KNEW how to do this immaculate thing and True Believers BELIEVED they knew, and wanted to buy into it.
They were also willing to pay the Disney Brand price. Miles of buyers lined up to pay Brobdingnagian premiums on historically inexpensive Florida homes, happily signing on to a lifetime of controlling and paternalistic rules, trading cash for Adult Supervision and protection of their property values.
That all started in 1996- lives of cosseted protection courtesy of the Disney Brand and their Colossal Legal Department. Title Companies and attorneys alike caved under the weight of the closing documents. And we all signed, secure that we had made safe, True Believer decisions.
Without overdoing the fairytale metaphor, less than 20 years later in 2016 we find ourselves stunned awake, Rip Van Winkle-esque. Abandoned by the Disney Brand, abandoned by the Disney attorneys and their well crafted clauses, the visible effects of neglect and mismanagement are displayed in the decay and disarray, rotting beams and mold, leaking roofs and plummeting values of our homes.
How we got here is not a short story, and not a pretty story either. And while I do not know ALL of the story I DO know quite a bit of it, and more is revealed every day. After years of spending far too much time reading DCCROs and statutes I yearn to share some interesting stuff, assembled documentation, facts and opinions about just how the hell we got here.
Please read along.