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Judge orders foreclosure, restaurant to be put up for bids

By Staff | Jun 1, 2011

In the latest development of the dispute between Shoreline Finance LLC, lienholder for the now-vacant restaurant at 1244 Periwinkle Way, and Ellington’s Restaurant Group LLC, 20th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Sherra Winesett ordered last week a Final Judgement of Foreclosure for the property.

According to the court document dated May 23, Judge Winesett ordered the Final Judgement of Foreclosure in favor of Shoreline Finance LLC, owned by Sanibel resident and attorney Charles P.T. Phoenix.

The seven-page document details the $2.3 million currently owed on the property, which includes approximately $2.1 million in principal, $38,000 in property and casualty insurance, $49,000 in 2009 and 2010 real property taxes, $10,000 in late fees, $29,000 in interest and more than $61,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs.

The judgement stipulates that unless the total sum due is not paid, the Lee County Clerk of Courts will sell the property at auction, on Wednesday, June 22 beginning at 9 a.m. online at www.lee.realforeclosure.com.

“What (Ellington’s Restaurant Group LLC) were doing was forcing a procedural issue to impede the foreclosure process,” said Phoenix. “They were being vexatious, but the facts are fairly straightforward — they had a contract to buy the property for $3.8 million, and they didn’t buy it. And they had a lease for $17,000 a month, and they didn’t pay it.”

Jillian Algrin, co-owner and managing member of Ellington’s Restaurant Group LLC, disputes Phoenix’s allegations. Algrin also stated that she is looking forward to bidding on the property later this month.

“This is the overall outcome that we wanted from the very beginning,” said Algrin. “Our intent was to level the playing field so that not only we, but others, could bid on this property.”

According to Phoenix, Shoreline purchased the mortgage to the Dolce Vita property from Busey Bank in August 2009, while that restaurant was already in the process of shutting down. When he filed suit to foreclose on the property, the owners of Dolce Vita filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“We had an agreement that as long as Dolce Vita paid their mortgage, and paid back some of their past debts, we would not foreclose on them,” said Phoenix, who also alleged that Ellington’s — who began renting the property from Dolce Vita — stopped making payments in May 2010.

In November, Phoenix stated that he filed suit for eviction. The day before the eviction was to take effect, he alleges that Ellington’s filed for bankruptcy.

Algrin said last month that Ellington’s made a down payment of more than $250,000 to Dolce Vita, which was supported in Judge Winesett’s ruling in early April.

On Wednesday, Algrin reported that she and her partners have received “overwhelming support” from many former patrons of the restaurant as well as members of the island community.

“Everybody wants us to return,” added Algrin. “Even (legendary jazz pianist) Dave Brubeck said that Sanibel wouldn’t be the same without Ellington’s.”

Phoenix, meanwhile, is moving forward with his recently-announced plans to open Il Cielo, an Italian fine dining establishment, in the fall.

“We’re maintaining the property and planning some major renovations of the building,” he noted. “Everything is being designed by Loretta Paganini. She will be intimately involved in the design concept.”

Paganini, host of “Simply Gourmet” on the Discovery Channel and proprietor of the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institute, has conducted cooking clinics on Sanibel for the past 15 years.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this exciting new restaurant,” said Paganini. “Sanibel will see an exciting new restaurant concept that reflects my traditional Italian culinary roots and high standards of hospitality, while keeping in mind the island’s culture, tastes and lifestyle.”

Both Phoenix and Algrin are confident that the result of the June 22 property auction will conclude in their favor, but it remains to be seen which group will enter the eventual winning bid.