Renovation stalled amidst financial woes, security/nightclub manager claims
COLUMBIA, 6/11/12 (Beat Byte) --
A former employee who says he headed up security and managed a nightclub in Columbia's taxpayer-subsidized Tiger Hotel has filed suit against owners Glyn Laverick
and a partnership that may include local real estate agent Dan Johnson
Hired last October in hotel security and later manager of V2
, Robert Powell, 39,
said he was dismissed in mid-May with other employees when the owners shuttered the nightclub after seven months. Powell claims his employer owes him over $9,000 in back wages
, and describes a hotel in disarray misrepresenting its condition and amenities.
62 pick up
"The Tiger Hotel is a luxury, full service boutique hotel
," the company's website tells potential guests. "The Tiger offers 62 rooms
and suites. Guests enjoy all of the business and first rate amenities of a luxury hotel."
But that's not true, Powell told the Heart Beat, and ongoing guest reviews support his claim
. "They basically have two floors and a handful of rooms that might qualify as luxury," he said. "A lot of the amenities have never opened, and real progress basically stalled on the seventh floor sometime around February."
The 8th and 9th floors are open.
Subsidized with $1.8 million in tax increment financing, the project has struggled for years
. After previous owners Dave Baugher
, John Ott
, Al Germond
, and Renea Sapp
sold the hotel to Laverick in March 2011, this publication broke a series of stories about his failed projects
in four other communities, including two high-profile theatre renovations in Canada and a concert promotion business in Marshall, Mo.
In England since late March, Laverick did not respond to Heart Beat requests for comment on this story. A family medical crisis was keeping him behind, he told the Heart Beat last month
. Longtime partner Lara Wiechula
, who has overseen the hotel in Laverick's absence, did not respond to a request that she describe "the Robert Powell situation, as briefly or as detailed as you like."
Though payroll was "always on time," Powell said his employers "started paying me less than we agreed in January. They said they would make it up." But over time, the short pays added up. "I was doing three jobs on a nightly basis: manager, bartender, and sometimes security."
When Powell inquired about his back pay with urgency, he heard tales of financial woe. "There was a freeze on the construction bank account, or furniture for new rooms was tied up off the premises because the bills weren't paid," he said.
Other times, he was charmed. "Mr. Laverick is a likable guy; he doesn't come across as 'in your face,'" Powell said. "A lot of the time I was around him, he was more like a heavenly visionary with all the right answers
With fifteen years in hotel and restaurant service, Powell admits Laverick's vision is admirable. But disarray and "unprofessional behavior" have made that vision hard to implement, Powell explained. "Originally, we had planned to open the floors month by month," he said. "The construction schedule seemed consistent, 8 am to 4 pm every day, and a small crew came and went. But what I could never understand is why not much was getting done."
Even small projects -- from an inconsistently-serviced elevator to the "hoarder-like" condition of the management offices, filled with stuff from floor to ceiling -- never received attention, Powell said. Reportedly in England with Laverick, Dan Johnson, whose "name is on all the licenses, like liquor and business licenses," Powell claims, acted more like a silent rather than an operating partner.
"I don't know who is doing any oversight," Powell said. "When I heard this was a government-funded project, I was surprised no one from the government was ever in to check on things."
War of the words
The two sides have engaged in a war of words since they parted company, with Powell demanding his pay and threatening to take his case to an attorney, local reporters, even City Hall; and hotel manager Jim Pidcoe sending a "cease and desist" letter and, Powell says, implying he was guilty of extortion.
But Powell stands by his figures. "If they owe you the money, how can it be extortion?" he said. In an email exchange with Pidcoe, Powell calculated his past due pay to the nearest dollar: $9,549.00. A $460.00 settlement offer "was an insult," Powell said, "especially when they told me Mr. Laverick was 'being very generous.'" His case is scheduled for trial July 5.
"I want what's owed to me, Lara," Powell emailed Wiechula. "Do the right thing!"