Will Ongoing Drama Ground 321 North’s Lofty Plans?

Written by on October 8, 2014 in News - No comments

Last September, more than 130 brokers gathered in the atrium of the former Fashion Mall to learn about the complete transformation of the former Plantation Fashion Mall project over the next several years. David Emihovich of Katz Associates and Larry Klein of Forest City Enterprise, which US Capital Holdings Group had retained for retail leasing, described the project’s vision and showed renderings of 321 North.

We waited… and nothing.

Then, with the hiring of Jennifer Moran as Director of Leasing  of 321 North this past April, it appeared as though US Capital Holdings LLC was finally, after several delays over the past several years, was back on track, moving forward with the development of the project.

But, with more drama that recently surfaced, it looks like we’re back on hold.

With nearly $158 million raised for the redevelopment of the Fashion Mall missing, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Jack Tutor said that a key document governing control of the Plantation project was forged.

Wei Chen, the manager and 1 percent owner of developer Mapuche LLC, and Zhen Zeng Du, the head of Tangshan Ganglu Iron & Steel Co., which owns the other 99 percent, both testified at trial before the judge. Du accused Chen of misappropriating the millions of dollars he invested in the 321 North redevelopment project, and forging a document in Chinese that would prevent Du from removing Chen as the head of the company. Du wants Chen out of management so he can restart the project with his own team.

Although the Chinese handwriting experts’ analysis of Du’s signature was inconclusive, the judge said he believed Du’s account over Chen’s. Tutor ruled that Du didn’t sign the document and it was forged. Although he didn’t explicitly say that Chen forged it, it was Chen’s side that submitted the flawed document to the court.

“Mr. Chen, I don’t know whether you did any of the things that have been suggested during these hearings that I’ve held in this case, but you also may have some liability down the road,” Judge Tutor said. “So you need to come to the table and see if you can help resolve this case if that’s possible.”

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff and Scott Marder, of Duane Morris LLP, represented Du in the lawsuit. Rodriguez-Taseff pointed to Chen’s testimony, where he admitted that the developer’s bank accounts was nearly empty despite receiving $158 million from Du, a resident of China. Little work has been done on the property, which has been closed for years. Chen testified that he earned over $400,000 in salary a year, employing two translators since he doesn’t speak English and bought a $2 million condo.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Benjamin E. Olive represents Chen in the lawsuit.

Judge Tutor urged Du and Chen to resolve their differences out of court so the project could move forward without years of delay. Du’s attorneys are preparing a motion to capitalize on the recent ruling.

“Now that this is behind us, our client looks forward to working with the City of Plantation to finally redevelop this property so that it is fully contributing to the tax rolls of the city,” Marder and Rodriguez-Taseff said in a statement. “Our client intends to sit down with the city to better understand the city’s vision for the property and the needs of the community.”

Du has yet to select a team to manage the Fashion Mall redevelopment, Rodriguez-Taseff said.

With all this drama, maybe they should just turn the darn thing into a giant theatre.  Just a thought.



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