By Ron VandenBoom
There were smiles all-round when on Wednesday, July 7, a final agreement was reached ending the seven-year old lawsuit over the Havre Holiday Village Shopping Center property.
I think everybodys a winner, said County Attorney Dave Rice when asked about the settlement. Its been a long chapter of ups and downs.
Rice said the agreement ending the 1992 lawsuit led to a stipulation for dismissal that was approved by Judge Ted O. Lympus of the 11th Judicial District.
The agreement was reached after Ocwen, the new owner of the 20-year old shopping complex, came to Havre with checkbook in hand ready to do business, Rice said.
The agreement paid Hill County all of the back taxes, created an easement for Wakhpa Chugn Bison Kill Site, and also paid some of the back rent owed the county.
The agreement ends seven years of doubt, rumors and speculation, over the future of the shopping facility and puts Ocwen firmly in the drivers seat as the uncontested owner of the land and buildings that make up the mall.
Were not landlords anymore, Rice said and acknowledged it was never the wish of the county to serve as a landlord. Were back to square one and ready to move forward.
Andy Belew, director of asset management for the Florida-based financial corporation, called the round table discussion with all parties involved in the suit. Ocwen took the lead in getting the lawsuit settled, Belew said.
Belew took the settlement in stride when he said, This is what we do. He added that the only strange thing about this particular negotiation was there were so many players.
Belew also said he was pleased the agreement had finally been reached.
Now we own the ground and were going to move foreword, he said.
Work has already started on repairing about 190,000 of the 225,000 square feet of roof at the shopping center, a project that alone is expected to cost $300,000 to $400,000. A paint job is expected to start any day at the Village and landscaping will follow, according to Belew.
The final segment of the upgrade will be repairs to the parking lot, a move that is expected to complement the relocation of the main entrance caused by the Highway 2 construction project.
A total dollar figure of about $1 million would be spent on remodeling and upgrades, Belew said.
Belew also said Ocwen feels very good about where were going, regarding the Holiday Village and emphasized that he has already spoken to city officials and were ready to work with them.
The settlement of the lawsuit will also mean the court appointed trustee/manager position at the Holiday Village, currently held by John Caven, will be abolished sometime within the next 45 days.
John has been with the Holiday Village a long time and done a marvelous job keeping the place going, Belew said. John has an excellent mind and extraordinary grasp of Havres demographics and economic patterns.
Belew said he expects Ocwen will continue to employ Caven for special projects at various times in the future, but would not elaborate.
We appreciate all of the work John has done hes an extraordinary talent and its hard to say what may have happened to the shopping center if any other individual had been in charge, Belew said. We really appreciate his efforts.
Belew added that a new manager will be announced soon by Westfield Properties Inc., the management firm Ocwen has retained to manage the Havre mall.