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Villages purchased in bankruptcy court

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By Natasha LaFayette

The demise of The Villages Resort on Norris Lake seemed inevitable, yet the most recent purchase of the property by Emerson Properties LLC may give a small amount of hope to what some imagined was a lost cause.

On Feb. 11, Emerson Properties largest shareholder MIROBO LLC joined countless others in Orlando to place bids at the auction of Land Resources developments. Land Resources, developer of The Villages, has been in the process of filing for bankruptcy for several months.

Mike Martinez, partner with Mirobo LLC, said the managing firm has been looking very closely at the property for about five months.

 “We are excited about the opportunity to be part of what we consider one of the premier developments on Norris Lake,” said Martinez. “Regardless of the history, the actual land and location on the lake is second to none.

Mirobo is known in Campbell County for its management of The Willows Communities on Norris Lake. Mirobo manages the marina operations of Stardust and Twin Cove, according to Martinez.

Although Martinez is excited about the central location on Norris Lake, he admits The Villages have inherited some issues and bad publicity. Mirobo foresees serious engineering problems with phase two, where the bulk of property was purchased through the bankruptcy sale.

Though Mirobo is not obligated to fulfill promises made by Land Resources, they are developing a plan to make all the lot owners comfortable in their purchases.

“We will be working hand in hand with the property owners,” said Martinez. “They have been burned and our goal is to make that idea of a dream home happen.”

The majority of lots sold in the development are in phase one and three, places where infrastructure is nearly completed. Any landowner in phase two other than Mirobo will be contacted to discuss a possible change in location due to the problems with developing the inland type area.

Phase two of The Villages could be extremely costly to develop, according to planning commission attorney Reid Troutman. The planning commission will still require bonds to be in place until the lakeside community is complete. Mirobo will replace the bonds set up by Land Resources with new bonds, which may be larger amounts due to increases in labor and materials.

Mirobo will be facilitating the completion of the infrastructure through working with the county, bonding company and excatavors, according to a press release received on Monday.

“The planning commission needs bonds in place until its finished,” said Troutman.

Phases one and three should be completed by the end of the year and then Mirobo will focus its attention toward phase two.

“Our goal is to get the remaining infrastructure in place as soon as possible while keeping the best interest of all the lot owners in mind,” said Mirobo partner Boog Potter.

Whether or not the second phase is developed, bonds will have to be put forth until the purpose of the property is established.

“We are currently waiting for those bonds to be replaced,” said Troutman. He expects new bonds or letters of credit to be submitted in the next few weeks.

Though Mirobo is not required to provide amenities for the development, such as clubhouses, pools and recreational facilities, Martinez said Mirobo is willing to do some amenities to make The Villages a desirable place to live.

“As the largest lot owner we want some amenities,” said Martinez.

Along with the remaining lots and marina, Mirobo has inherited the website and marketing tools used for the development.

“For all intents and purposes they no longer exist,” said Martinez about Land Resources.

The new owners expressed enthusiasm about the development and possibilities but Martinez admits the country is still going through difficult economic times.

“In any other time it would be very exciting but we are going through unfamiliar territory,” said Martinez.

However, Martinez holds firm to the concept that The Villages will one day be a premier resort on Norris Lake.

“Though there is a bad image on The Villages, There is a lot of people who bought a dream and there is enough of a vision to change that image,” said Martinez. “Down the road, people will forget these two bad years.

Land Resources purchased the Villages property in 2005 for over $4 million from Shelby Industries, according to the Campbell County Registrar of Deeds.

Since the purchase and slow development of the land, Land Resources collected over $30 million from the lots sold in the area.

Mirobo purchased the remaining 205 lots and rights to pursue a permit for a marina for $1 million.

Approximately 410 lots have been sold in the development, yet with recent home foreclosures many of the lots may not be developed.

Recent foreclosure records indicate about five property owners have foreclosed on about 10 different lots throughout the development. Many of the foreclosures have been in the lake front section of the development.