The head of the Mississippi-based development firm behind the proposed Berkman II redevelopment project, which could receive up to $36 million in public incentives, has ties to a struggling condominium project in New Orleans that owes more than $200,000 in delinquent property taxes and $79,000 in unpaid debts to contractors, according to public records reviewed by our Florida Times-Union news partner.
Lori Stewart didn’t lead the presentation given to Jacksonville City Council members about the plans to transform the half-constructed Berkman II tower that sits along the river on downtown’s Bay Street into a destination hotel and amusement park, and her name wasn’t listed as part of the development team described in that presentation. Instead, she is the leader of the primary financial backer of the project, the Stewart Family Trust, and the development company that acts as its public face, Barrington Development.
Barrington Development lists several Mississippi hotels and resorts among its track record of success and says it has big plans for others in Biloxi, Miss. and Pensacola Beach. Absent from the news releases and PowerPoint presentations about the project: the Lake Vista condominiums.
In 2014, a Mississippi-based limited liability corporation, which lists Stewart as a manager, purchased a blighted three-story building in a neighborhood along Lake Pontchartrain. Stewart signed the mortgage document and was listed as the sole member of the group, according to property records.
A 2018 article in the New Orleans Advocate said neighbors believed the long-vacant apartment complex was hurting their property values and grew optimistic when workers tore down the aging structure and built a 16-unit condo complex in its place. Then the work stopped.
In the article, Stewart blamed the project’s struggles on other work her company had on its plate.
The project remains unfinished, owing $218,000 in property taxes and bound by liens filed by three contractors who say they were never paid for their work.
Matt Brockelman, a local lobbyist working for the Stewart family, said the company is in the process of paying the property taxes and said the company’s other successful projects shouldn’t be overshadowed by what happened in New Orleans.
Brockelman’s response along with the City Council’s review of the proposed Berkman II project is in a longer version of this story on Jacksonville.com.