The nasty breakup between heavyweight builder John Fish and veteran developer Stephen Weiner just got nastier.
Weiner has laid low since Fish filed a lawsuit in October that accused his former partner on a Boylston Street luxury condo project of backing out at the last minute, costing Fish tens of millions of dollars.
But after a Suffolk Superior Court judge last month allowed Fish to move forward with parts of his case, Weiner and his son Adam, who also worked on the deal, have fired back with a 139-page rebuttal of the construction magnate’s claims.
“It is abundantly clear that [Fish] filed this action as part of a larger public relations campaign to try to absolve [Fish] . . . from any responsibility for the failure of the 1000 Boylston Street project . . . and instead to lay the blame at the feet of Stephen Weiner and Adam Weiner,” the Weiners said in their filing on Monday.
The Weiners countered that Fish himself sought to kill the $800 million condo tower, alleging that the construction magnate said at a January 2019 meeting, “Let’s end this,” and, “If you want to end this, let’s do this now.”
Paul Popeo, an attorney representing Fish, declined to comment on the Weiners’ claims.
Both sides pursued the project for a desolate corner of the Back Bay — which included a second hotel tower that was later dropped — until August of last year, when Weiner released a statement saying the 27-story condo building had been scrapped as well.
In his lawsuit, filed two months later, Fish said, “The defendants engaged in brinksmanship and threats to renege on promises and commitments and to terminate the project, all to achieve objectives for the personal benefit of Steve Weiner and Adam Weiner.”
Last month, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth W. Salinger dismissed Fish’s claims against the Weiners and their firm for gross negligence in performing contractual duties and for waste of real property, but denied the Weiners’ request to throw out seven others, including for intentional misrepresentation and tortious interference with advantageous business relations. The judge also dismissed multiple personal claims against the Weiners, including for breach of contract, but allowed others to proceed.
Now, in a response to the lawsuit, the Weiners cited several reasons for canceling the deal: “Costs and risks were rising, projected profits were falling, and most importantly, John Fish was unable to secure key work permits and an air rights lease from the State that were required for the construction loan to close and for construction to begin.”
Fish is chief executive of Suffolk Construction, whose projects have included Millennium Tower in Downtown Crossing and the Encore Boston Harbor casino and hotel in Everett. But he invested personally in 1000 Boylston as 50/50 partners with Stephen Weiner, a longtime developer of retail and commercial properties. Suffolk would have built the tower under contract.
Last spring, “despite the writing on the wall that the Project was not going to proceed, let alone succeed,” Fish wanted to push ahead, according to Monday’s filing by the Weiners.
“At stake for Mr. Fish was not only his reputation — which had taken a big hit when he failed to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston as the face of the City’s bid — but a several hundred million dollar construction contract that was due to be awarded to his construction firm, Suffolk Construction, if the Project went forward,” the Weiners said.
They also disputed Fish’s contention that the partners’ lenders were concerned that Stephen Weiner hadn’t fully disclose his finances.
“The lender’s concerns . . . related instead to John Fish’s lack of satisfactory assets, lack of free cash flow, and lack of overall liquidity, given that most of what John Fish was able to pledge was his ownership of Suffolk Construction, and Suffolk had significant obligations of its own that would prevent the lender from being able to collect on the Fish guarantee if needed,” according to the filing.
And the Weiners pushed back on Fish’s claim in August 2019 that the project was “ready to break ground,” citing several preconditions that hadn’t been met, including full permitting, a lease and development agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and closing on the construction loan.
“The Project had simply become too expensive and far too risky,” the Weiners said.
“At the time, and also in hindsight (and even without considering the current COVID-19 conditions), Stephen Weiner did John Fish a huge favor when he saved John Fish from himself.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong location for Encore Boston Harbor.