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- Photo by Chris Tobar Rodriguez
Byrd says it's pretty clear Artegon was "looking for any reason to try to empty the mall."
"Sky Trail, for example, was never told their lease was being terminated and was being allowed to continue, but Artegon locked the front doors," Byrd says. "How can you possibly tell them, 'You can continue to use your space,' but then not let any patrons into the mall?"
Sky Zone also alleges after it entered into its lease with Artegon, several of the larger tenants that the mall had said would move in, like the Radbourne Center skate park or Berghoff's Oktoberfest brewery, never materialized. By the time Sky Zone opened in 2015, Artegon had sold the Cinemark theater and Bass Pro Shops. The mall "became the constant source of rumors about a potential sale to theme park developers in the Orlando tourist market," the lawsuit says, prompting Artegon to assure its tenants in September 2016 that it would continue operating.
"The combined pressures of challenges with tenant occupation, the liquidation of outparcels, and the prospects of reaping a substantial sum from selling off the property, impelled [Artegon] to look for and pursue a strategy to terminate leases in the center, even without justification," the lawsuit says. "Defendant's actions have cast a pall over the center, interfering with Sky Zone's right to quiet enjoyment of the premises, by discouraging customers from continuing to use or book for future use the Sky Zone facilities for events, including charity events and children's birthday parties, many of which have already been scheduled."
Byrd says some of his clients are still getting notices from Artegon to pay for this month's rent. Byrd says it may have been cheaper for the mall's owner to pay off breached contracts and sell to a developer than to keep running the artisan mall.
"I guess you'd risk losing millions if you can still make multiple of millions," he says. "Maybe they thought we'd give up and go away. But they picked on the wrong group of tenants because we fully intend to protect their interests. Sometimes the underdog does have a chance."
Meanwhile, smaller vendors like Sina Sutter and Carmen Lopez don't plan to sue, but are still looking for a space to practice their craft. Lopez misses the little things about Artegon – seeing her friends every morning, getting hugs from clients. She doesn't regret her two years there.
"A lot of bad stuff happened, but that didn't interest us," she says. "When you're an artist, you see things differently. I loved showing my clients how I make my bags. People went there to find their creativity and we helped them find it."