(This story originally appeared in the Daily Business Review)

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MIAMI-Attracted by glossy promotional pitches, Rupert andBeverley Henry say they almost emptied their retirement account afew years ago to buy a condo where they hoped to spend the rest oftheir lives.

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They liked what the brochures and what the developer told themof the proposed Oaks at Biscayne Landing near Biscayne Bay in NorthMiami.

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Back in 2005, the couple envisioned themselves strolling torestaurants and shops in the town center of Biscayne Landing,spending afternoons by the pool and enjoying the view of BiscayneBay.

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But after they moved into their newly built condo in 2007, theydiscovered reality didn't match their dreams.

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Their bay vistas have been replaced by mounds of dirt. Theydon't have a pool, clubhouse, guardhouse or any other amenitiesbecause BLIA Developers, an affiliate of Deerfield Beach-based BocaDevelopers, never got around to building them before turning thetwo-tower Oaks project over to the lender.

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The twin 25-story buildings are surrounded by acres of dirt, achain-link fence and construction debris. None of the promisedretail, office and hotel space has been built.

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The Henrys and about 100 other owners at the Oaks have hiredattorney Gary Poliakoff to help them escape from the Oaks.

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For now, their two options are limited and won't provide a quickfix: They can sue the city of North Miami, which owns the landunder their buildings and worked closely with the developer to planthe project, or they can negotiate with the construction lender,which is about to take control of the condo association.

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North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre said he doesn't believe theowners have grounds to sue the city.

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"Before the closing, they did a walk through, they investigatedthe property and they knew exactly what they were getting," hesaid. "Coming after the city would be a frivolous lawsuit. Wewelcome their frivolous lawsuit if that is what they want todo."

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'Pretty Pictures'
The Henrys have become consumed with the troubled project and theirinvestment. The couple paid $406,000 for their two-bedroom condo in2007. Units now are selling for $125,000, Rupert Henryestimates.

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"We used our retirement funds to buy this property, and this isthe result," Henry said, standing next to renderings of the Oakshanging on the walls of the project's vacant sales center.

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"Aren't those pretty pictures?" he asked.

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Most owners don't want their condos, which have depreciated invalue because of the lack of amenities and the condition of thesurrounding property.

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"Most of them are not interested in staying there because thelifestyle that they bought will never exist," said Poliakoff, ashareholder in Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale. "Theywant to recover as much of the money they invested as possible and,quite frankly, move on."

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The owners have no hope of seeking compensation from BocaDevelopers' BLIA, which turned over 160 units in the Oaks toconstruction lender iStar FM loans last year.

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Unbuilt Town Center
North Miami approved Biscayne Landing in 2002. The community, eastof Biscayne Boulevard and south of Northeast 151st Street, was toinclude nearly 6,000 residential units, 180,000 square feet ofoffice space, a 200-room hotel, 300,000 square feet of retail spaceand an Olympic training facility. But Boca Developers only got tobuild the 373-unit Oaks before it defaulted on its constructionloans and lost the project.

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Boca Developers owes iStar $35 million. A foreclosure sale ofthe 160 units is scheduled for May 11. If there are no bidders,iStar would end up taking title to the units.

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Boca Developers also defaulted on $45 million and $161 millionconstruction loans granted by Credit Suisse and First Boston todevelop a town center with shops, restaurants, offices and ahotel.

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Credit Suisse and First Boston foreclosed on the $45 millionloan and a foreclose sale of the development rights is scheduledfor July 15.

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"The only viable, non-bankrupt entity is the city," Poliakoffsaid. "The city is a potential [target] in any litigation becausethey are the only remaining of the original promoters of BiscayneLanding."

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Trustee's Promises
The Henrys and the other owners at the Oaks don't even controltheir own building. Boca Developers never handed over thebuilding's association to the owners. Court-appointed receiverAndrew Hellinger is running the association until iStar gainscontrol of the property.

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Hellinger, CEO of Liberty Pointe Advisors, recently met with asmall group of owners at the shuttered Biscayne Landing salescenter.

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He promised to build a pool, a playground, a basketball courtand a garden for the Oaks residents. He also talked about buildinga wall around the Oaks and constructing a separate entrance road toisolate the community from the rest of Biscayne Landing.

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"The goal is to create an oasis within Biscayne Landing so whenyou are in the pool … you are not seeing the [dirt] that thedeveloper" left behind," Hellinger said.

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He declined to comment on how much iStar would allocate for thejob and said he didn't know its probable cost.

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Pierre said iStar had committed $1 million for the amenities. Arepresentative of iStar did not immediately return calls forcomment.

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Hellinger said the Oaks parcel doesn't have enough space toaccommodate the new amenities, so he wants the city to give theOaks about 4 acres from the undeveloped portion of the 167-acreBiscayne Landing.

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The city signed a land lease with Boca Developers' BLIADevelopers LLC to build the Oaks and signed a second land leasewith Boca Developers' Biscayne Landing LLC to build the rest of theproject.

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The four acres are leased by the city to Biscayne Landing LLCand are collateral for the Credit Suisse loans. Charles DeSanti,the court-appointed receiver for the vacant land, said CreditSuisse and First Boston have agreed to give four acres to theOaks.

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Everyone's Best Interest
Added Scott Galvin, a member of the North Miami City Counci: "Wedon't mind giving a little bit of extra land over to the unitowners. [It] is not going to be a major deal. It's in everybody'sbest interest for those tenants and those residents at the Oaks toget their amenities done."

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Pierre said the city will expedite the permitting process forconstruction of a guardhouse and pool, despite the owners threat ofa lawsuit.

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"I am pushing to get the amenities built as soon as possible,"he said. But he said the city would defend itself against"frivolous lawsuits."

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Unit Unaffordable
Marcia O'Connor and Jerry McCarthy, who own a three-bedroom condoat the Oaks, pay about $700 a month in maintenance fees. Inaddition, each unit pays the city $1,500 a year for the landlease.

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Those expenses and their $2,100 monthly mortgage payments madetheir unit unaffordable, said O'Connor. They are renting the unitfor $1,600 a month to cover part of their expenses, O'Connorsaid.

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"It is killing us, killing us," she said, adding they paid$380,000 for the unit in 2007. She says some units are now sellingfor about $120,000.

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Pierre said most of the owners aren't paying the $1,500 landlease fee, and the city has not filed liens against theircondos.

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"We haven't aggressively gone after those owners because weunderstand and we feel the pain," he said.

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From the beginning, the project was marketed as a partnershipbetween the city and the developer. Some buyers bought into itbecause the city was part of it, said McCarthy,

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McCarthy, a real estate broker that sold units at the Oaks, saidhe liked the developer's sales pitch and believed in theproject.

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He said the city should bear some of the responsibility for thefailed project. In part, he blames the city for giving thedeveloper the green light to start closing on the units before theOaks' amenities were built.

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"They should have told the developer they were not going toissue a certificate of occupancy until the clubhouse was built andthe guardhouse was built and all the amenities that are part ofthis property were finished," he said. "But they didn't dothat."

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Pierre said the amenities were planned for a different sectionof Biscayne Landing, and the certificate of occupancy was issuedbecause the developer built what it was supposed to build in thatportion of the property.

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McCarthy said if the Oaks had been completed with the amenities,the units would not have depreciated as much as they did.

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"If we had got more of what we were promised," he said. "Wewould have been better off than we are."

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