Libbie condo buyers pushing developer into bankruptcy

The Tiber remains unfinished and has had a sign promoting one unit remaining for some time.

The Tiber remains unfinished and has had a sign promoting one unit remaining for some time.

As a developer and a disgruntled contractor jockey for control over a stalled West End condo project that had been scheduled for foreclosure tomorrow, a trio of would-be residents have looked to the bankruptcy court to try to secure their interests.

Three buyers of condos at the long-delayed Tiber development at Libbie and Guthrie avenues filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition last week to try to force the project’s development entity, Tiber Partners LLC, into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The buyers listed as petitioners on the filing are Willis and Mary Blackwood, Clemens and Marjorie Bribitzer, and Wilson and Barbara Merchant, who all live in the Richmond area. Their claims are listed as relating to prepayment on condo units for a total of $480,000. David Browne of Spiro & Browne in Richmond is representing the petitioners.

According to Browne, all buyers on Tiber’s units had to pay what was called a customization fee that was 20 percent of the price of each condo, which ranged in price from $575,000 to $1.2 million. He said the customization fees that were paid to Tiber Partners add up to $1.9 million. Browne said while smaller earnest money deposits have been kept in escrow, the money for customization doesn’t have that protection.

The filing could serve several purposes as it relates to the Tiber. First, it puts a hold on the pending foreclosure auction on the Tiber property, which is set for tomorrow on the steps of the Richmond Circuit Court.

It would also preserve the other assets of Tiber Parnters LLC, including any cash remaining after the buyers put down their various deposits.

Sands Anderson attorney Roy Terry, who specializes in bankruptcy and creditors’ rights case, said a filing of this kind is usually rooted in “a basic desire for transparency.”

“Quite often there is concern about what is going on with the alleged debtor and a desire to have someone else in control,” Terry said. “Bankruptcy is a great leveling device to make sure all creditors are treated equally.”

In an involuntary bankruptcy case, the debtor has the opportunity to respond to the claim and to call for its dismissal or accept the petition. A judge will ultimately make the final call. If Tiber Partners doesn’t file a response of any sort within 21 days of the initial filing, it would automatically go into chapter 7.

The filing is the latest twist in the story of the embattled high-end development. John George, Scott Boyers, Jennifer Fergusson and Berkeley Fergusson formed Tiber Partners LLC in 2012 to build the 15-unit development. Nine of the units sold before George’s contracting firm, John K. George & Co., broke ground on the project in 2013.

But the project has sat idle in recent months as a dispute between George and the other partners resulted in a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court. George accuses his partners of wrongfully terminating his firm from the construction job, while the other Tiber partners countered that George was incapable of completing the job.

Matters got even more complicated when George and a partner created Libbie Guthrie LLC and bought the $6.27 million loan on the Tiber and pushed it toward foreclosure.

Boyers, reached by email, declined to comment.

Courtney Paulk of Hirschler Fleischer represents Libbie Guthrie.

“It is unfortunate if this delays the completion of the Tiber,” she said in an email.

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Joan Lynch
Joan Lynch
5 years ago

I’ve been watching this train wreck and thinking how incredibly incompetent these people are. It all starts and ends with the partners of Tiber Partners LLC. They are the ones that are responsible for this mess and the fact that they couldn’t manage this project to a successful end speaks volumes to their business acumen (or lack thereof. I know some of the buyers who put their trust into hands of the Fergussons, Boyers and George. Many of them are downsizing and looked forward to living there. Now they are living a nightmare. I hope they do force Tiber Partners… Read more »

C. Jay Robbins
C. Jay Robbins
5 years ago

The petitioners-potential buyers got good legal advice. The Bankruptcy Court is one of the unsung heroes of the legal system. The United States trustees in the Eastern District keep a sharp eye on corporate filings such as this one. Barring something very unusual, this case will be over in less than a year.