Yet another opulent business plan has failed at the former Versace mansion.
Miami food impresario Barton Weiss this week sued the South Beach property, which he vowed three years ago to reshape into an exclusive party space and lavish hotel bearing his personal Barton G brand.
His lawyers blame the failure on owner Peter Loftin, whose fight with lenders allegedly scared off Weiss’ crucial catering customers. Loftin’s own lawyer says Weiss still owes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The bitter end to a plan that seemed ambitious from Day One marks the latest setback for one of the most famous properties in Florida and probably the most popular spot for tourist photos in South Beach. Visitors routinely stop for snapshots by the steps where Gianni Versace was gunned down in 1997 by Andrew Cunanan.
Loftin, then a telecom magnate, paid Versace’s heirs $19 million for the 20-room property in 2000 and first made a home out of the lavish property, with its frescoed ceilings, a nine-foot-wide bed and a cloistered pool and grotto steps from Ocean Drive. Business ventures followed, including a $50,000-a-year private club, boutique hotel, restaurant and, briefly $50 daily tours. At one point, Loftin considered building timeshares by the grotto where Versace once mingled with Madonna. None of the ventures gelled, and Loftin eventually brought in a partner to try and fix things: Scott Rothstein.
Now serving 50 years in federal prison for a ponzi scheme, Rothstein had briefly tried to open an Italian restaurant and club at Loftin’s property. After the Rothstein scandal broke, Weiss came in and signed a 10-year lease in late 2009, renaming the property the Villa by Barton G.
It was the first time since Versace’s murder that someone else’s name took center stage at the property, and Weiss counted on his local and international following as a restaurateur and caterer to transform the troubled property into the hottest spot for weddings and parties.
Financial details weren’t disclosed in the suit, first reported by the Law 360 blog. But lawyers on both sides agree the venture ended up failing, with Weiss reporting a 50 percent drop in bookings after his split with Loftin became public earlier this year. Loftin has faced foreclosure proceedings since December 2011, according to Weiss’ suit, and news of the troubles soured Weiss’ ability to book advanced catering events. The suit also accuses Loftin of concealing the loan issues despite a foreclosure that was clearly looming.
In 2012, the Villa fell short of the $10 million revenue target that was required under Weiss’ lease, said Andrew Hall, one of Weiss’ lawyers.
“They prevented Barton from earning what he could have earned,’’ said Adam Lamb, another Weiss lawyer.
Adam Steinberg, who represents Loftin, denied any interference, saying Weiss wasn’t paying the taxes required under the lease or complying with obligations to turn over certified revenue reports. He accused Weiss of bypassing arbitration procedures and filing suit rather than face eviction.
Loftin said in an email that Weiss offered a promising business plan for the Versace mansion that never materialized. “He gave me fraudulent numbers to entice me into a lease,’’ Loftin wrote.
Original Article from the Miami Herald.
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