Dania Jai-Alai Project Dead, But Fight Lingers

June 5, 2012|By Tonya Alanez, Sun Sentinel
DANIA BEACH — The proposed mega-expansion of the Dania Jai-Alai fronton is dead but the fight remains alive as two lawsuits wind their way through state court.

In one, potential buyer Dania Entertainment Center LLC is suing The Aragon Group — a subsidiary of the fronton’s owner, Boyd Gaming — over cancellation of the sale agreement.

The deal to transform the aging fronton into a casino with a hotel, restaurants, bars, lounges, shops and a marina fell through in November when DEC failed to come up with the financing for the $80 million project.

In a separate lawsuit, DEC recently sought to ask about membership of and contributions to Citizens for Responsible Development, a nonprofit that sued Dania Beach over allowing the project. But Broward Circuit Judge Eileen O’Connor barred such questions from recent depositions.

Meanwhile, Dania Beach is asking the judge to dismiss the case and the citizens’ group is asking the judge to void the agreement that would have allowed the development to proceed.

The nonprofit citizens group is represented by high-powered attorney, Bill Scherer, of Conrad & Scherer.

DEC alleges the deal fell through because Boyd did not provide “clear and marketable title,” the state failed to approve transfer of the pari-mutuel permit and the Citizens’ lawsuit “created doubts” about its ability to proceed and “impaired” its ability to close on the property.

Scherer said the membership of the Citizens’ group is irrelevant to the lawsuit.

“They’re just making excuses,” Scherer said. “Blaming my little group is absurd. What stymied their ability to close was they didn’t have any money. They’re just trying to scapegoat to keep their oar in the water.”

Scherer said “it’s obvious” DEC is just tying up the property in a lawsuit so it can’t be sold.

Attorneys and representatives for DEC, Boyd and Aragon either declined to comment or failed to return calls.

The Citizens’ group sued the city over the project, saying it rushed the development order and improperly approved it after holding only one public hearing rather than two. After the DEC deal fell through, the Citizens group tried to dismiss its own lawsuit and asked the city to cancel the development order. Because the city refused the cancellation, the group is now asking the judge to do it.

Politically connected attorney David Di Pietro, formerly of Conrad & Scherer, listed as registered agent for the Citizens Group, said the group’s lawsuit is about ensuring transparency between local government and the community.

“I’m not necessarily anti-gambling, but I’m pro-transparency and providing the community an opportunity to be heard,” he said.

Dania Commissioner Anne Castro emphasized the city has no involvement in the DEC/Boyd lawsuit but would like to see the litigation resolved.

“We would like matters to be resolved asap, so if anything that’s going to happen at that site can move forward,” Castro said. “My sense is that Dania Entertaiment doesn’t have the wherewithal to develop it. I don’t think they ever did, and Boyd Gaming, I think, would like to get out from underneath it.”