Developer Don Peebles Hit With Attorney Fees Over Sawyer’s Landing Project Dispute

After two years of litigation involving a mixed-use development known as Sawyer’s Landing in Overtown, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman has ruled that prominent New York real estate developer Don Peebles will have to pay $800,000 in legal fees.

The development, also known as Block 55, will include 300,000 square feet of retail space and 60,000 square feet of office space. 

Hanzman granted final judgment of attorney fees and costs in favor of the project’s developers, Downtown Retail Associates LLC and the Swerdlow Group.

In 2020, developers Peebles and Barron Channer sued Swerdlow Group over Block 45 and Block 55 after the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency ended Peebles and Channer’s previously-granted rights to those properties. 

The order marks the final piece of the case since Hanzman dismissed Peebles’ suit in October 2021, eliminating its $160 million breach-of-contract claims.  

Alan Kluger, Steve Silverman, Marko Cerenko and Lisa Jerles of Miami-based law firm Kluger Kaplan represented Swerdlow in the litigation. 

Alan J. Kluger of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine. Courtesy photo Alan J. Kluger of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine.

“The biggest takeaway of the case is that frivolous lawsuits against experienced business people won’t result in them caving in and just paying money so they can just move on with their project,” said Kluger. “I think what’s beginning to change is they understand that’s what it is and they’re going to fight. The people that bring frivolous lawsuits are going to lose, they’re going to publicly be embarrassed and they’re going to get an attorney fee award approaching seven figures.”

Kluger said he believes the increase in commercial real estate projects in South Florida could lead to more cases like this. 

“He figured, a lot of money in this project, he’s going to pay me to go away,” said Kluger. 

Real estate developer Michael Swerdlow of Swerdlow Group said research can go a long way before entering into a partnership for a project.

“Make sure of who your partners are, or proposed partners are,” said Swerdlow. “I guess you look a guy up on the internet.”

Despite the legal fees and frustration surrounding the lawsuit, Swerdlow said he was lucky to be able to get title insurance despite being sued and was able to proceed with the project. 

“It wasn’t bad, he sued me for $160 million and now I have a judgment for $800,000 against him,” said Swerdlow. 

‘A Retail Desert’

Swerdlow said there’s a lot of activity at the project site in Overtown, as more people take notice of the growing submarket.  

“We’re up to the second floor, with four cranes up and there’s 100 guys there working every day,” said Swerdlow.

“This project to me is a seminal opportunity for me, the city and the Overtown [commercial real estate]. No. 1, you have an area that was a retail desert, nobody wanted to serve the people of Overtown,” said Swerdlow. “Luckily, there are thousands of new apartments being built in the area, they’re successful and therefore are able to bring the top-tier retailers to that site.”

Overtown needs a renovation of public housing in the area, in Swerdlow’s view. 

“The extent I can contribute to that, I’d be happy to do,” said Swerdlow. “I’m happy I’m able to deliver that at a fair price to the community.”

According to court documents, Glen Waldman of Waldman Barnett represented the plaintiff TPC Overtown Block 45. He did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. 

The project is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

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