Hayward vs. Varona, Part 2 On April 3, Judge Gary Bergosh heard arguments for nearly five hours on a temporary injunction request by Robert de Varona, the airport’s food concessionaire, to prevent the city from removing and storing his restaurant kitchen equipment, furniture and other items.
Varona’s attorneys argued that the lease contract and a Feb.11 letter from the airport director gave him 60 days after the end of his lease on March 31 to move out.
Beggs & Lane attorneys countered that the lease gave the city the authority to move Varona out of the airport upon expiration of the lease.
Judge Bergosh ruled that Varona’s attorneys failed to meet the four legal requirements for granting a temporary injunction against the city. However, he also ruled that Airport Director Greg Donovan’s letter did give Varona 60 days after the end of his lease to wrap up his business affairs at the Pensacola International Airport. He said the city was “collaterally stopped” by Donovan’s letter and Varona had 60 days to complete his transition.
“Based upon the first letter, I find the only just ruling I can find here is for de Varona,” Bergosh told the courtroom. “Mr. de Varona, the airport is important to the city. If you can do this quicker, that would be good.”
In the courtroom at the city’s bench sat Mayor Ashton Hayward, Pensacola International Airport Director Greg Donovan and Beggs & Lane attorneys Charles Wiggins and John P. Daniel. Robert de Varona appeared with his two Clark, Parington, Hart, Larry Bond and Stackhouse attorneys, Jeremy Branning and Daniel Harrell.
Donovan testified that city officials worried Varona would not leave the airport within the 60-day time frame. He estimated if OHM Group, the new concessionaire, was prevented from starting work for 60 days, the city would lose a minimum of $27,000 in their new contract.
Attorney John Trawick testified about the March 28 letter he wrote on behalf of the city. The letter gave Varona 24 hours to vacate the airport or the city would remove and store his property and charge him for it. Trawick said the letter was a starting point of the negotiations. On the stand, he maintained the lease did give the city the power to kick out Varona and not wait 60 days.
Mayor Hayward admitted upon the stand that he had not read the lease or Trawick’s letter until Monday, March 31. He testified the city wanted to offer Varona an “olive branch,” so they released a press release he and Fountain worked on saying so, while both sides attorneys were in heated negotiations.
“What I did Monday afternoon was call our attorneys and say this is ridiculous,” Hayward said. “We want to help him (Robert de Varona) and be a good neighbor. We have gone above and beyond to do that.”
Hayward said he did not order the city attorney to send Trawick’s letter to Varona. “It would be presumptuous to think I read every letter that goes out. We have 800 employees and four enterprises.”
Robert de Varona told the court he needed his 60 days to sell his restaurant assets because it was part of his money for retirement. It was presented to the court that the equipment was worth more to potential buyers if they are working—losing half their value if they are in storage.
Varona said his current investment in the airport lease is worth $418,000. He estimated he had made $2 million in investments in his food concessions business at the airport.
“I need to maximize what I have there that I was counting on for my retirement,” he testified.
Varona said he “totally” planned to move out in the 60-day period provided by the city lease. “I have never seen such a chaotic transition.”