The owners of the historic Saratoga Polo property in Greenfield are being sued by three out-of-state investors who say the owners went back on a joint-venture deal to improve the 42-acre polo grounds and build at least 75 homes on the premises.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County, accuses club owners Mike Bucci and James Rossi of breaching the deal by “secretly negotiating the sale and development of the polo property” with builder Luke Michaels of Michaels Group in Malta and Carver Laraway, who owns the Port of Coeymans and the Coeymans Industrial Park.
The team of investors behind the lawsuit are Duane Gerenser of Bennington County, Vermont, and Michael Connor of Addison County, Vermont, and Carl Berry of Marin County, California, the CEO of Star Resort Group, a major timeshare development firm. Negotiations began in November 2015, according to the suit.
The investors had planned to help Bucci and Rossi pay off $3.3 million in debt in exchange for a 60-percent stake in the property and building the residential units, the suit states. The investors say they “incurred significant costs investing substantial time and resources.” They paid Rossi and Bucci $50,000 last year to help “ease their immediate debts and preserve the polo property,” the suit claims.
The three investors are seeking an order directing Bucci and Rossi to convey the property to Saratoga Polo Association, which is also named as a plaintiff. They also ask for unspecified monetary damages to be determined in court, including legal fees and lost business.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Rossi called the lawsuit a misunderstanding and a “matter of timing.”
“They chose to move forward with the proceeding as we were trying to work out an arrangement,” he said. “We’re confident it will work out in the end. There’s no ill will on anyone’s part.”
The property’s Whitney Polo Field, used for polo matches in the summer, is one of the older polo fields in the country.
Rossi and Bucci have worked to improve the club since purchasing it for $1.2 million in 2004, with attendance increasing every year since. But polo alone hasn’t proved financially viable, and the pair has tried to do more with the property.
“We have grown the polo attraction, and we do host a number of weddings and special events,” Rossi said.
Located on Bloomfield Road just outside Saratoga Springs, the property received town approval in 2007 for a mixed-use development that would leave the polo field intact but allow a conference center and resort to be built around it. The proposal included 284,000-square feet of building development, including about 90 residential units, a hotel, spa, restaurant and banquet facility, with an estimated cost of $80 million. That project hasn’t moved forward.
In June, Rossi and Bucci put the property on the market for $5.85 million. In July, First National Bank of Scotia filed foreclosure papers in the Saratoga County clerk’s office, saying it was owed nearly $500,000 in overdue mortgage payments.
On Wednesday, Rossi said that matter was resolved in October when he and Bucci reached an agreement with different investors on a plan to develop the property and keep polo alive locally.
“This group is not part of that resolution,” he said. “We’re proceeding in earnest with our plans for the season, which starts on July 7.”