I'm so sure that Lou Pearlman's plan to redevelop Church Street Station is going nowhere that I'm going to make a little wager: If Pearlman and his partner Robert Kling actually move Pearlman's Trans Continental empire to Church Street, I will purchase, with my own money, a copy of every 'N Sync CD ever released. And then I'll listen to them. Back to back. Without a pause. Without cotton in my ears. Without grimacing, groaning or guffawing.
A reckless gamble for anyone over 12, to be sure, and one I wouldn't dare make if I thought for a moment that Pearlman and Kling could pull this thing off. But they can't. One of them is too dim-witted and the other is too sleazy. (Read on to figure out which is which.) They will become hopelessly mired in contractual squabbles, legal wrangling and governmental red tape. They will have a falling out, sue one another and leave the city holding the bag.
I do not base my predictions on the happy talk of tourists abandoning the attractions and venturing downtown to visit a recording studio/TV production facility. And I do not base my predictions on the idea that Pearlman has nowhere near 500 employees to move to downtown as he claims.
No, these two heavyweights will sink this thing of their own accord. And if city commissioners hadn't been so eager to jump into bed with them, they might have realized as much before rubber-stamping the deal Feb 17.
Trans Continental came to the city with big promises to revitalize moribund Church Street. Despite the fact that Pearlman claims to be a very rich man, he and Kling had their hands out. And the city, via the Downtown Development Board and Community Redevelopment Agency, was only too happy to oblige, promising an incentive package worth millions in parking giveaways, loans and tax incentives. "We wanted more money," Trans Continental Entertainment president Greg McDonald joked at the Downtown Development Board meeting last week. Don't doubt him for a minute.
But then Pearlman was outed after the meeting for his interest in Trans Continental Talent, the greasy Internet "scouting" agency that has no trouble taking people's money but can't seem to find anyone a job. Orlando Weekly readers already knew about TCT's long and troubled history, because we wrote a story about it ["Lou's next move," Oct. 17, 2002]. TCT is under investigation by the state attorney general's office. In deer-in-the-headlights fashion, Pearlman claimed not to even know about the probe.
Big Lou's troubles don't end there. On Feb. 10, two of his own lawyers filed a breach-of-contract suit against him in Orange County Circuit Court. J. Cheney Mason and William B. Pringle III represented Pearlman in long, costly contract-dispute lawsuits with members of Back-street Boys and 'N Sync. Now Mason and Cheney say Pearlman hasn't paid them for their work. "The suit is for money due to my client far in excess of $15,000," says Kenneth Mason, attorney for the attorneys. (The $15,000 amount is the cutoff for lawsuits filed in circuit court.)
Calls to Trans Con HQ for comment were not returned. When I buttonholed Greg McDonald in an elevator after his pitch to the Downtown Develop-ment Board, he got downright testy. "No comment," said McDonald. "If there were any legitimate newspapers, ones that print the truth, I would be willing to do it."
An ironic statement from a man whose company is suspected of fraud, but let's move on to Kling. Here's a personal reference from Michael Rubin, Kling's former business partner: "I really don't have anything good to say about Robert, so it's better I say nothing."
Rubin had plenty to say in a breach-of-contract lawsuit he filed against Kling last year. The two owned several businesses together, including a health club and commercial real-estate holdings. But they had a spat in August 2000 when, according to the court file, Rubin asked Kling for a look at the books of one their jointly held companies. "Not only did Kling refuse to produce such records," Rubin's complaint states, "but he absconded with the records and all of [the company's] equipment and furniture under cloak of night and shut down [the company's] office."
As a favor, Rubin co-signed the mortgage for two homes purchased by Kling. But after their disagreement, Rubin wanted to be done with Kling entirely. He demanded that they split up their business interests, and that Kling take him off the mortgages. To protect himself, Rubin drew up an agreement, and Kling signed it.
The problem is Kling didn't bother to tell creditors he and Rubin were not in business together any longer, according to the court documents. Then he stopped making loan payments on their joint business ventures. "This guy screwed my credit very badly," says Rubin, who runs an investment firm in Maryland. "I really can't say anything, but he deserves much worse. What goes around comes around." They settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in December.
OK, if I'm right and these two end up wallowing in the mud, the taxpayers of Orlando save millions, Church Street doesn't suffer another embarrassing failure and someone owes me a beer. If I'm wrong, I suffer mightily, along with everyone else sucked into this scheme. Deal?
Wanna make a bet?