Legal battles keep Phoenicia closed
The fate of the Phoenicia Mediterranean Restaurant on Logan Boulevard remains unknown.
The owner of the restaurant, Husam Obeid, closed the doors on the 1302 Logan Blvd. restaurant on Dec. 23, after several disputes with building owner James Focht.
Obeid said he planned to close for a couple of weeks over the holidays and then reopen in mid-January.
However, on Jan. 13, during a bitter cold spell, a water pipe in the building burst, causing some damage to the interior of the building.
Obeid planned to have a company come in and clean up the building, but on Jan. 16, he discovered he was locked out by Focht and a trustee appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
“I haven’t had access since then,” Obeid said. “All of my equipment is in there, as well as the food in the coolers. The trustee locked me out of the building, and I am contesting that in court.”
A hearing on whether Obeid could get what he claims is his out of the building was held Feb. 21, but a ruling has not been made because Focht claims some of the property is his. The bankruptcy court judge scheduled another hearing for May 23 to determine “who owns what,” Obeid said.
Obeid opened Phoenicia in January 2008 after signing a 29 year lease with Focht, who operates under the name J&S Properties, in July 2007. Obeid spent about $200,000 to renovate the building.
According to Obeid, he encountered several problems with Focht, including a dispute over who was to obtain a highway occupancy permit.
Apparently Focht, who several years before had planned to use the building for the Stardust Show and Sports Club, had not obtained a needed highway occupancy permit from PennDOT, Obeid said.
Focht claimed Obeid needed to obtain the permit, but Obeid said under Pennsylvania law only a building owner can obtain the permit.
In 2010, Focht put the building up for sale. Obeid said he offered Focht $435,000 for the building, but his offer was rejected.
“It was way low. It wasn’t a credible offer,” Focht said. “We had it appraised for $650,000.”
According to legal documents, Focht had stopped making regular payments on his mortgage since 2003, so in September 2011 the property was ordered put up for sheriff’s sale to enforce a default judgment of First Commonwealth Bank obtained by the bank against J&S Properties.
In December 2011, J&S Properties filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so the building didn’t go to sheriff’s sale at that time.
In February 2013, Focht put up a “for sale” sign, but in March 2013 Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva ruled in Obeid’s favor, saying the owner couldn’t put up the sign because signage was not included in the lease agreement.
However, another sign went up in November 2013 when the bankruptcy court appointed broker Bill Trevorrow of CCN Properties, Johnstown, to sell the property. The property is listed for $650,000 on the CCN Properties website.
Several other “has not paid rent since April” signs also can be seen next to the building. Focht claims J&S filed for bankruptcy because Obeid was not paying rent.
Obeid said around August 2011 he received papers from the bank saying he had to forward his rent payment to them.
“I stopped paying Jim Focht at that time and started paying the bank,” Obeid said. “I stopped paying the bank around May 2013 due to non-maintenance of the building. Paying the rent or not paying has nothing to do with his bankruptcies. The bank wouldn’t be able to take him to sheriff’s sale had he not defaulted on his mortgage.
“Jim’s defaulting on his mortgage caused his problems and mine. He failed to maintain clear title to the building.”
Also in November, Focht placed barriers around the parking lot (which is owned by his sons) and also blocked access to the dumpsters outside the building, Obeid said.
After the January water break, the bankruptcy court held an emergency hearing ruling the bank could put the property up for sheriff’s sale and may proceed with foreclosure.
“The bank is allowing the property to go to sheriff’s sale unless the trustee sells the building,” Obeid said. “I am contesting them keeping me out of the building and keeping my equipment locked. I am not contesting the sheriff’s sale.”
Obeid said he is not sure what will happen next, but said he would likely look for another location for his restaurant if he gets his equipment back.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.