Davenport resident Henry Kebabjian said he is going to fight the City of Lake Wales in court over the city’s attempt to foreclose on the historic Seminole Hotel in downtown Lake Wales.
Kebabjian, who owns multiple properties and businesses in Lake Wales, purchased the hotel on Aug. 19.
Kebabjian told the Sun that after telling city staff he purchased the hotel, he asked whether they would be willing to reduce or eliminate code enforcement fines on the hotel that were associated with the prior owner.
Kebabjian said in 2013 he purchased another piece of property in the city that had code enforcement violations from the prior owner and that, in that instance, city staff worked with him to remove these fines. He said he had faith that the city would work with him again in reference to code enforcement fines at the Seminole Hotel.
During a city commission meeting Oct. 20, Lake Wales City Attorney Chuck Galloway said he decided not to give Kebabjian that opportunity.
Six days after Kebabjian purchased the hotel, Galloway filed a foreclosure court petition Aug. 25, stating the property should be foreclosed upon based on more than $200,000 in code enforcement violation fines since 2017.
“What they are doing is the most ridiculous thing I can imagine,” Kebabjian said.
Kebabjian is the former owner of Giorgios Italian Restaurant in downtown Lake Wales. He has also owned a used car dealership across the street from Lake Wales Museum and purchased two properties from the City of Lake Wales, somewhat near Lake Wales Little Theatre, a few years back.
Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson and other commissioners gave verbal consent to Galloway to move forward with the foreclosure Oct. 20.
“This time, the CRA (Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency) is going to be sure to the extent possible that whoever gets that property is going to be fiscally responsible,” Gibson said in reference to the Seminole Hotel.
Lake Wales City Commissioner Terrye Y. Howell appeared to be the only commissioner who expressed doubt about the foreclosure plan.
Last year there were multiple high profile code enforcement cases. Winter Haven resident Ray Brown was threatened with arrest for allegedly trespassing into the Seminole Hotel while trying to help the former owner decide whether the hotel could be restored.
City staff also demolished a house over code enforcement violations last year, against the will of a resident who was in the process of trying to repair the home. The city planning department director was fired in the immediate aftermath in that case.
Taxpayers funded a study to determine how much it would cost to demolish the Seminole Hotel – also last year.
“Tearing down houses in my area doesn't make me look good,” Howell said.
Kebabjian said he has already been approved for a $350,000 construction loan and wants to renovate the Seminole Hotel to have retail business on the bottom floor and either residential apartments or hotel rooms on the top floors.
In the end, the city commission instructed Galloway to move forward with the foreclosure of the Seminole Hotel on Oct. 20. Once the city takes ownership, city staff will likely put the property out to bid.
Kebabjian paid $10,500 for the Seminole Hotel. Gibson said after the city takes ownership and clears the title, Kebabjian can bid to purchase the property back.
“For what I've invested over the past eight years, they should be applauding people like me,” Kebabjian said. “I will continue fighting this.”