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NEW: Aerospace engineering company’s move from Gardens prompts lawsuit against Business Development Board

Source: The Palm Beach Post
By Tony Doris

Belcan Corp.’s former landlord claims the Business Development Board interfered. Northcorp is asking for more than $1 million in damages from the BDB, for “intentional and wrongful interference.”

WEST PALM BEACH — Belcan Corp.‘s former landlord on Friday sued the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, alleging the BDB interfered with its relationship with the aerospace engineering company in facilitating state and local incentives for the corporate headquarters’ 2018 move from Palm Beach Gardens.

The suit, filed in circuit court by Northcorp III, LTD, alleged that the BDB, under longtime president and CEO Kelly Smallridge, lured Belcan to West Palm Beach. Verdex Construction, owned by her boyfriend Rex Kirby, then was hired for millions of dollars, to renovate and build out the interiors of the new offices at 2410 Metrocentre Blvd., the suit said.

Smallridge countered Friday that she didn’t work on the Belcan project and didn’t know her boyfriend was contracting for the work.

Kirby a former BDB chairman, could not be reached for comment. Nor could officials at Belcan be reached late Friday.

[UPDATE: Kirby emailed us after our deadline. His response: “My relationship was and is with Richard Tambone, the Developer who bought the old Lincoln Tech building, and he is who contracted with us to build out the space. I was introduced to Richard by John Flanigan, who I met thru the Economic Council long ago. We were working with Richard on a number of opportunities well before the Belcan project, and are still working with him today.”]

The BDB worked hard to win approvals for state, county and city money for Belcan to remain in Palm Beach Gardens and expand, only to have the company later say it found other office space it preferred, in West Palm Beach, Smallridge said. At that point, the BDB worked to win West Palm’s participation in an incentives package.

Based on the number of jobs it planned to create, Belcan ultimately won $800,000 in incentives, 80 percent of that from the state, 10 percent from Palm Beach County and 10 percent from West Palm.

The global corporation, which had offices off Burns Road in Palm Beach Gardens, moved more than 450 employees to West Palm and planned to add 200 more jobs over the following five years. The West Palm building faces Interstate 95 just south of 45th Street.

The company’s website says it has more than 10,000 employees and serves hundreds of customers in over 60 locations worldwide.

Gary Hines, BDB senior vice president, confirmed that he and not Smallridge, worked to help Belcan win the incentives. The BDB did not locate Belcan’s preferred site or participate in negotiations for it, he and Smallridge said.

“This is a case of sour grapes,” she said.

Belcan’s real estate broker called the BDB and said it hadn’t been able to reach agreement on a lease with Northcorp and had come up with an alternative, Smallridge said.

The BDB was disappointed, because that meant it had to go to another city to ask for an incentive money, when it had just negotiated for one from Palm Beach Gardens, she said.

“The BDB did not handle any of the real estate and doesn’t care where a company goes,” as long as it’s within the county, she said.

“Northcorp is upset that they have all this space empty but if they were able to strike a deal with Belcan, they would still be there,” she added.

Northcorp is asking for more than $1 million in damages from Smallridge and the BDB, for “intentional and wrongful interference” with Northcorp’s business relationship with Belcan, which had been its tenant since 2002.

That interference “was improper because there was zero economic benefit created for Palm Beach County by causing Belcan to move its business operations 7.4 miles,” according to the complaint, filed by Northcorp attorney Lloyd Schwed.

“Smallridge has been quoted as saying: ‘For the most part, I keep my private and professional lives separate,’ but the truth is, Smallridge’s private and professional lives are intertwined in ways that create conflicts of interest for herself and the BDB,” the suit alleged.

Smallridge, for her part, said she didn’t last at the BDB for 32 years by being unethical.

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