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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Knight in shining armor for Tidemark?

The latest "partner" to step into the embattled Tidemark hotel/condominium/marina project in Holmes Beach could well be the "knight in shining armor" needed to save the $20 million project from extinction.

Tidemark filed for federal bankruptcy protection on Jan. 21, and Tidemark's Nick Easterling said EFO Holdings of Dallas and its mortgage subsidiary, Cypress Lending Group of Vero Beach, have agreed to fund $3.9 million to get the project out of bankruptcy and into construction.

"We're not really the knight in shining armor," said Bob Grammen of Cypress Lending, "but we do step in to assist 'debtor-in-possession' companies in bankruptcy when we see a viable project that needs some financial assistance. If that's a 'knight,' then I guess we are."

EFO Holdings found the Tidemark project worthwhile, he said, and that's when Cypress made its offer.

Grammen explained that Cypress is only the lending arm of EFO Holdings. Once Tidemark is out of bankruptcy court, or the bankruptcy judge agrees to the proposed financing, EFO Holdings takes over and arranges development of the project.

A study of the project by EFO and an on-site inspection found a demand and need for condominium/hotel units with an accompanying marina on Anna Maria Island.

"We think it's a good project, and I understand several major developers are interested," if the bankruptcy court approves the financing, Grammen said.

Recent Cypress/EFO funding efforts in Florida alone include the Key West Brewery in Key West, which was recently sold; Boddens Industrial Park in Tampa; a $6 million loan to the Twin Eagles Golf and Country Club in Naples; a $1.1 million loan to Princeton Hospital in Orlando, and a $3.7 million purchase option on debtor-in-possession property in Naples.

"We often make loans of more than $10 million," noted Grammen, "but the normal range is between $500,000 and $10 million."

The Tidemark project was surrounded in controversy when it was approved by the Holmes Beach City Commission in August 2001.

Two duplex lots adjacent to the Marina Bay restaurant property were rezoned to commercial, and the project was called a marina. Under the Holmes Beach land development code, "lodging" is allowed at a marina.

After city approval of the project, Easterling received a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit to dredge the channel at the property and move a seawall to create more marina dock space.

The demolition of the restaurant in August 2002 was expected to be followed by the start of construction, but Easterling encountered a number of financing difficulties.

A number of construction start dates came and went without any activity at the site and, in July 2003, Regions Bank of Florida filed a foreclosure notice on its first mortgage of $1.45 million.

The bank was awarded foreclosure in December 2003 and had planned to sell its mortgage on the Manatee County courthouse steps on Feb. 12.

But Regions Bank attorney Scott Cichon said the bankruptcy petition automatically puts a stop order on the sale.

Easterling has said his goal is to pay off all the creditors and investors and get the project built as planned.

Brasota objects
Brasota Mortgage Co. has filed an objection with the federal bankruptcy judge over the refinancing plan proposed by Cypress Lending to the Tidemark project.

Bob Grammen of Cypress Lending said Nick Easterling was to meet with Brasota representatives Feb. 2 to "discuss those issues."

The judge has ordered an independent evaluation of the Tidemark property and the company's assets and will hold a hearing Feb. 17 for the Brasota objection and a discussion of the appraisal report, he said.

"We think Brasota will want this project to go forward with our funding plan after their questions are resolved," said Grammen. "We are still committed to the project and our plan, but it will be up to the judge to decide."