Contractors claim they are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
The bowling alley business dream of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis lies half-built in a far corner of the Hunt Valley Town Centre. Cinder blocks and plywood cover the entrances and windows; rubble and metal vents sit piled inside a chain-link fence.
Lewis announced MVP Lanes with great fanfare more than two years ago. It was supposed to include a posh sports-themed bowling alley, restaurant, sushi bar and live radio booth — and create more than 100 service and construction jobs on the site of a former Wal-Mart.
But the recession sacked the project developed by Lewis, his attorney and other unnamed partners. It has devolved into a swirl of lawsuits. Now, MVP Lane's subcontractors complain they're owed more than $1.1 million, even as Lewis, who signed a $22 million football contract three years ago, turns to other business ventures.
Some of the subcontractors have filed legal actions against MVP's general contractor, claiming they have yet to be paid for their work. Those legal claims amount to about $660,000, while other contractors say they're owed another $500,000, but don't have the money to pursue a lawsuit.
MVP itself has filed a federal lawsuit against a New England financier, claiming that he "duped" the partnership, forged documents and failed to deliver funds that could have revived the project.
The idled project has left behind hard feelings.
"I've been in business for over 40 years, with over 1,000 customers," said Jerry Strieter, president of Hyattsville-based Southern Insulation, which won a $168,240 court judgment last year against the project for fireproofing work. This "is the only customer that's totally stiffed us in all that time."
Still, Lewis' business partner, attorney Marc Rosen, remains optimistic that the project — developed by a partnership that limits the personal liability of its members — can be restarted.
MVP's attorney, Jeffrey Kotz, said in an email that the partnership "is diligently working on replacement financing."
Lewis did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him for a comment. A Ravens spokesman referred The Baltimore Sun to Rosen and MVP Lanes.
When Lewis unveiled MVP Lanes in September 2009, he was beginning to prepare for life after 14 years in the National Football League. A star linebacker, Lewis wanted to diversify his business interests. Earlier that year, he shuttered a restaurant, Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que, in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, to focus on the Hunt Valley project, he said at the time.
MVP Lanes was part of a strategy to create a conglomerate of businesses centered on his athletic persona. His enterprise called The RL52 Group consists of a charitable foundation, a clothing line, a fitness dietary supplement and a merchant payment processing service. He recently launched a cycling workout video business, RL52 Cycling, and has dabbled in commercial real estate.
The RL52 Group website, however, does not mention the MVP Lanes project. And the MVP Lanes website — MVPEntertainment.com — is currently offline. Only a Facebook page remains.
Like many business and real estate partnerships today, the MVP Lanes project was organized as a limited liability company, MVP Lanes LLC. LLC members and investors are unidentified and generally are not personally liable for the LLC's debts
"It's a liability blocker," said Dan Goldberg, a University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor. "You put your money in as a member, and that's pretty much what you agree to lose. … That's the reason why you do LLCs. Anybody dealing with an LLC knows the deal, knows the rules."
In the past, Rosen disclosed that he is MVP Lanes' managing member and Lewis is the majority investor. Rosen is a trial lawyer and former chairman of K Bank, a now-defunct Owings Mills bank that failed in 2010 over bad construction loans and was taken over by state regulators.
When interviewed by The Baltimore Sun at the project's outset, Rosen talked about expanding the MVP Lanes concept to other cities where there were strong professional sports franchises.
As is typical with such large projects, the general contractor chosen by MVP Lanes, Peak Contracting, hired several smaller firms to do such work as fireproofing, ventilation, concrete construction and plumbing. Legally, Peak owes the money to the subcontractors, not MVP Lanes
Peak and the subcontractors worked into the summer of 2010 but pulled back when bills weren't getting paid, they said. In the summer of that year, financing for the project fell through after a bank couldn't provide an expected loan, according to Rosen at the time.
Bryan Byrd, president of Peak Contracting, kept in frequent touch with the subcontractors through emails and weekly meetings, a few of which were obtained by The Baltimore Sun.