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Downtown Orlando Developments

Equity investor sues Ponte Health over Orlando Vertical Medical City project

A Tampa-area general contractor claims he was promised the right to construct the 33-story Health Tower in Orlando in exchange for a $3 million equity investment.

Three years ago, when she presented her concept for a $1.1 billion tower in downtown Orlando’s North Quarter that would combine senior living, assisted living, health care research and medical services into a Vertical Medical City, Tabitha Ponte was lauded as a visionary.

Now, in a lawsuit, one of her original equity investors in the deal is calling her something else: a fraud.

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MOA Capital LLC, the successor to Tampa-based Phoenix Construction LLC, has sued Ponte and her company alleging that she committed fraud and breach of contract after accepting $600,000 from the investor.

According to the complaint filed June 13 in Orange County Circuit Court, Ponte agreed to sell a 5% equity interest in the Vertical Medical City project to Phoenix Construction for $3 million. Ponte Health has rebranded the project as Health Towers.

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As part of the June 2019 agreement, Phoenix was granted the exclusive right to construct all Health Towers projects in Florida and the right of first refusal for any future projects outside of the state. Phoenix was led by Miguel Aguiar, a certified building contractor in Odessa whose primary experience is in residential construction.

The plaintiff contends that the investment was to be paid in installments over a set schedule and that Phoenix paid the first three installments totaling $600,000. But the contractor never paid the fourth installment of $400,000 “because HT never provided Phoenix with a written commitment for construction financing, as required by the Agreements,” the lawsuit says.

City officials lauded the world-class architecture proposed for Health Tower, including the rooftop gardens and lushly landscaped atrium.

The suit claims that after Phoenix made the first payments, Ponte began excluding the firm from the project by not providing it with progress information and status updates. Ponte ultimately “repudiated the agreements,” according to the complaint.

MOA asserts that Ponte and HT knowingly misled Phoenix into believing it had the right to construct the tower, and that when the company asked to inspect Ponte Health’s financial records, the president provided records that were incomplete.

MOA Capital, represented by John Agliano with Bajo Cohen Agliano, is seeking monetary damages and asking for a court-ordered inspection of the financial records for the company.

Agliano did not include a copy of the agreement in the initial complaint but said it would be submitted in a future filing.

Ponte is represented by Vincent B. Lynch with ELP Global, who told GrowthSpotter he is preparing a motion to dismiss the case and would be filing it shortly. A mediation conference scheduled for Sept. 20 was canceled due to Hurricane Ian and moved to Nov. 4.

Meanwhile, Judge John E. Jordan has ordered a case management conference on Dec. 13 with the expectation that the case will proceed to trial.

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Tabitha Ponte bought this $485,000 house in Hunter's Creek in the company's name and owned it for nearly three years. She signed a mortgage swearing that the property would be used for business purposes and that she wouldn't live there.

On June 25, 2019, the same month Ponte reportedly signed the deal with Phoenix, she purchased a four-bedroom pool home in the Hunter’s Creek neighborhood of south Orange County for $485,000 in the name Ponte Health P.A.

She took out a $390,000 mortgage, also in the name of Ponte Health, to finance the home purchase at 3734 Britainshire Court.

The mortgage from private lender D&S Investment Capital states in all capital letters that the loan is for business purposes. “Mortgagor represents and warrants that the loan evidenced by this mortgage and the note secured hereby are for commercial or business purposes and that the property secured by this mortgage shall not be occupied by the mortgagor or used for personal purposes.”

Ponte attached a copy of a corporate resolution from Ponte Health authorizing her to sign the legal documents needed to secure the mortgage. The document states that the resolution was legally adopted by the Ponte Health board of directors.

In 2019, Tabitha Ponte was the sole officer and director of the company.

Ponte sold the house earlier this year for $640,000 and satisfied the mortgage.

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It’s unknown what the business purpose was for the residence. Ponte’s Instagram feed contains multiple photos from 2019, 2020 and 2021 of her and her family lounging in a pool that appears to be the one at Britainshire Court.

The first post was made on July 6, 2019. It was a photo of the pool at night with the caption “for the past two weeks, just a tad distracted... and of course, lights up in teal 🤣#newproperty #singlefamily #backyard #pontehealth.”

She also made several posts that month documenting her home decorating efforts, including photos of the family’s dining room rug and furniture with the hashtags #newproperty #singlefamily #interiors #pontehealth #athome and #pontebuilds. The same room is pictured in the real estate listing for the house.

In the nearly three years Ponte Health owned the house, the company racked up more than $100,000 in unpaid debts.

Professional Service Industries, Inc., which provided geotechnical engineering services for the Health Towers project sued Ponte Health for unpaid fees and secured an $89,130 judgment from a Chicago court, where it’s headquartered. PSI filed documents with the court in Orange County in 2020 to enforce the final stipulated order of payment here. That case is still pending.

In December 2020, the Orlando Business Journal and its parent company, American City Business Journals, secured a court-ordered judgment against Ponte Health for $20,373 for unpaid debts, legal fees and interest.

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Tabitha Ponte did not respond to calls or emails from GrowthSpotter, but she is actively working with the city to move the Health Towers project toward construction.

Orlando’s City Council approved the master plan for the proposed 444-foot tower, as well as the Conditional Use Permit that allows the assisted living to be built in an Urban Activity Center in 2019. City officials called the project a “pioneering concept for the city” and lauded its world-class architecture.

Dan Kirby, principal with Jacobs, led the design work, with one building housing 350,000 square feet of Class A medical offices, research labs and a rooftop atrium with a working urban farm. The taller building - 35-stories - would have 955 senior living units with a mix of assisted-living, advanced care and memory care services.

Ponte Health said it had entered into a 100-year lease for the 2.5-acre site at 1000 N. Orange Ave. Those permits expired earlier this year, requiring Ponte to resubmit the plans in June.

Even though the project had previously been approved, this time around city planners requested several updates, changes and clarifications. The city asked for more details on the parking garage, the revised floorplans, unit counts and building heights. Some of the previous plans needed to be revised to include a new wastewater lift station that had been installed on the adjacent property.

In an email to Ponte dated Oct. 17, Planner Manual Ospina said there were still four outstanding issues that needed to be resolved before the case could head back to the Municipal Planning Board. The deadline to respond would be Nov. 11 to get on the December MPB agenda.

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Tabitha Ponte responded the same day. “I am going to have (GAI Consultants) help me ASAP with these items, so that we don’t keep going in Circles here for the MPB re-review; Please help get us past this, as we are now in closing of full financing capital on fast track to close by mid quarter, so that we can wrap up permitting and mobilize construction.”

Ponte Health also has reapplied for height clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration since the 2019 approval has expired.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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