PROVIDENCE — The city of Providence is moving to evict Skyline at Waterplace LLC, alleging that the company’s owners haven’t maintained the property or shown evidence of repairs that allowed them to avoid paying rent for nearly three years.
The city filed a complaint in District Court on Monday and told the company’s lawyer, Michael Lepizzera, that the company’s owners have until May 4 to show evidence that they did the work they’d promised. Otherwise, the city will seek to have them pay back 32 months of rent, totaling more than $270,000.
The property, which is owned by the state but managed by and leased through the city Parks Department, is a three-story event venue that frames the Waterplace basin and has hosted weddings, political events, and banquets. Skyline at Waterplace LLC has rented the property since 2016, with Rhode Island businessman Michael A. Mota as its CEO.
Under Mota’s leadership, the company has had a rocky tenure with the city. The city has complained about late rent payments, fire code violations, unpaid taxes, failing to maintain liability insurance, and chronic complaints about trash, waste, furniture and kitchen equipment left outside, according to city records obtained by the Globe. Two catering companies told the Globe they refused to do business with Skyline at Waterplace.
Neither Lepizzera nor Mota responded to the Globe’s request for comment Thursday.
Mota is also the CEO of VirtualCons, a Hollywood mobster-themed entertainment and cryptocurrency company, and president of Bayport International Holdings, a Florida-based public company listed as “buyer beware” by the OTC Markets.
As CEO of both VirtualCons and Skyline at Waterplace, Mota held events at the Providence venue, including concerts and membership drives to solicit investments for VirtualCons, some of which he filmed for promotional purposes.
Mota had a vision for Skyline when he and a small group of investors, including his father in law, Joseph Ricci, began leasing the venue in 2016. He proposed a new $1.6 million amphitheater, fountains like at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, walls of glass to show off the city views, and a gleaming “world-class restaurant.”
“This is a project Skyline will fund and maintain without any liabilities,” he insisted to the city planner at the time.
City officials quickly determined that his plan wasn’t feasible. Meanwhile, Skyline has struggled. Since 2016, Mota has asked the city for a break on lease payments at least four times. Then-Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and the parks commissioners unanimously granted lease abatements three times.
The largest abatement was in late 2019, when Mota argued that the building was in serious disrepair and said that his company’s public adjuster estimated remediation work would cost $476,502.
The parks commissioners agreed to suspend rent payments for 32 months, provided that Skyline at Waterplace document all the improvements, maintenance, and repairs; the city noted that “failure to do so will result in termination of any further abatement.” Mota told the commissioners that Ricci, a contractor, was the personal guarantor for the remaining lease payments if Skyline ceased operations.
During the pandemic, Skyline at Waterplace received nearly $2 million in federal COVID money, including more than $1.5 million from the restaurant revitalization fund, which could be used for payroll, rent or mortgage payments, maintenance, and other costs. Mota has not answered questions from the Globe about how the money was spent.
Although the last abatement expired on Aug. 1, 2022, Skyline didn’t resume paying rent until March, after senior assistant city solicitor Jillian Barker wrote to Lepizzera that the company had until March 31 to pay $63,165 in back rent.
In her letter on Feb. 28, Barker noted that there were numerous complaints about the condition of the premises, including fire code violations, and said Skyline at Waterplace had also breached its lease agreement in other ways, such as by holding events after midnight without approval and failing to maintain liability insurance.
Barker sent Lepizzera another letter on Monday, the same day the city filed for eviction. In the letter, which was also sent to Mota and Ricci, Barker wrote that Skyline at Waterplace has continued to breach the lease by failing to maintain the property and show documentation that they’d done the repair work under their last lease agreement.
“As such, please let this letter serve as a demand for documentation of any improvements, maintenance, repairs, etc. made between December 1, 2019 through today’s date,” the letter reads. If Skyline at Waterplace fails to do so, the city will seek to have the company pay back all 32 months of rent that was abated -- a total of about 270,000. Skyline at Waterplace has 31 days from the date of the letter to comply.
The city of Providence is not the only entity seeking money from Mota. A recent Globe investigation found that investors, vendors, and creditors who’ve done business with Mota’s various companies are chasing him for money, with 11 lawsuits totaling more than $775,000.