After being sued by several vendors in recent months, Merrill-Stevens is now being sued by the bank holding its mortgage, in an attempt to foreclose on the property.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Court records show that Coconut Grove Bank holds the mortgage for the nearly six-acre yard. The foreclosure notice was filed on June 30, naming five parcels of property along the Miami River. (Several newspaper reports state that the notice is part of a counter-complaint filed subsequent to Merrill-Stevens suing the bank, on June 2. Thus far my search of the circuit court records do not show that lawsuit.)
The foreclosure attempt is the latest in a string of difficulties for the yard, founded in 1885 and operating on the Miami River since 1923. Just prior to Christmas, Merrill-Stevens laid off nearly its entire workforce. But Hugh Westbrook, its chairman, later told both the South Florida Business Journal and the Herald-Tribune new service that the shutdown wasn’t permanent. He anticipated operating the yard as a storage facility and refitting megayachts on a project-by-project basis. Westbrook added that he was in discussions with possible investors about receiving $12.5 million to renovate sheds and extend dock space to accommodate yachts to 250 feet, up from its 155-foot limit. However, without the extra cash, Westbrook admitted, he’d have to sell the business. He blamed the financial problems on delayed approvals from the city, customers delaying projects, and the economy taking a downturn.
Besides the bank’s foreclosure notice, court records show default judgments have been made against Merrill-Stevens in several vendor lawsuits, requiring it to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in total. Those cases remain open. In addition, a construction lien was filed against the Merrill-Stevens property in May by a professional engineering consulting firm. Court records show that a balance of $28,825 remains unpaid to the firm since May 2008.