PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The capital city has succeeded in evicting a longtime wedding and events venue from their prime spot in Waterplace Park — for now.
R.I. District Court Judge Melissa DeBoise determined Monday that the city is within its right to evict Skyline at Waterplace after the venue’s attorney Michael Lepizzera missed several deadlines to provide discovery responses, according to court documents obtained by Target 12.
The court documents reveal that, with DeBoise’s ruling, the city can take possession of the property “immediately.”
Lepizzera filed an objection to the city’s request late last week, explaining that Skyline “has not intentionally ignored” court orders.
“Due to the undersigned counsel’s schedule and the voluminous nature of the requests, Skyline has not been able to finalize and serve discovery responses,” Lepizzera wrote in the objection.
Lepizzera added that he tried to get an extension to serve the discovery responses, but it was rejected “for failure to comply with the applicable District Court Rules of Civil Procedure.”
Josh Estrella, a spokesperson for Mayor Brett Smiley, said Skyline has 48 hours to appeal the judge’s ruling.
“The Skyline space and Waterplace Park are important assets to the city, and we will revisit the use of this space when this matter is fully resolved,” Estrella said.
Lepizzera said Skyline will be “unequivocally appealing” the judge’s decision within that timeline.
“The parties deserve to be heard on the merits of their respective claims,” Lepizzera wrote in a statement to Target 12. “In the event a trial is necessary, Skyline is confident that it will prevail, leaving Skyline with 13-plus years left on the lease term to continue to host premier events at this iconic venue which it physically built and created for the benefit of the city.”
Skyline at Waterplace and the capital city have been embroiled in a legal battle since April, when the venue’s owners were accused of violating the lease agreement by not keeping the property in good condition and not taking the proper precautions “to prevent waste, damage and injury.”
In a letter sent to Lepizzera, the city claimed that it received numerous complaints about the condition of Skyline’s premises. Those complaints included the venue leaving trash, waste, furniture and kitchen equipment outside “in the public right of way.”
The letter noted that, if the owner’s didn’t comply, the city would “seek payment of rent from December 1, 2019, through August 1, 2023.”
In response to that letter, Lepizzera argued the city can’t legally make Skyline pay the rent back, especially since its lease was amended several times to address the venue’s struggles throughout the pandemic.
Lepizzera accused the city of manufacturing “…dishonest reasons to move forward with its complaint for reasons other than non-payment of rent.”
“Those reasons are flat out erroneous, wrong and form absolutely no legal basis to evict Skyline,” he said.
Lepizzera argued that Skyline also “had no part” in the city’s lease amendments, which extended the venue’s rent abatement period to January 2023 amid financial hardships.
“Skyline had requested a much longer rent abatement due to the pandemic,” he said. “The city agreed to extend the rent abatement for a much shorter period of time … It was the city that prepared the lease amendment.”
Skyline opted to pay the city more than $72,000 in rent to cover the six-month rent abatement period, as well as for the months of February and March, though at the time, Lepizzera said it was being “paid under protest.”