Judge rules in favor of Victorian Square; deSha's could be out by year's end

tharrison@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2013 

A judge has ruled after a monthslong dispute that Victorian Square is not legally obligated to extend the lease for deSha's restaurant.

Judge Thomas L. Clark's ruling, filed Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court, means deSha's lease will expire at the end of the year unless the restaurant appeals — or unless the two groups can agree on new terms.

Victorian Square attorney Thomas Miller indicated that wouldn't happen.

"Victorian Square wants a different tenant in there, not deSha's," he said. "There will not be any discussions."

Tavern Restaurant Group, which owns deSha's, said in a statement that the company was disappointed in the ruling and was weighing its options.

In the written opinion, the judge said the lease terms made with the previous owners of Victorian Square did not have to be followed by the new owners because they were "invalid and unenforceable."

In August 2012, Victorian Square was purchased by Lexington's The Webb Companies and Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc. of Cincinnati for $1.7 million.

On May 3, Victorian Square filed a motion in Fayette Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment to clear the way so Tavern Restaurant Group could "peacefully vacate its premises in Victorian Square by the end of the year."

That would end a decades-long relationship with Victorian Square, a block of restored 19th-century buildings across from Rupp Arena and Lexington Center. DeSha's was the first tenant when Victorian Square opened in 1985, occupying a prominent spot at West Main Street and North Broadway.

In response to the original motion, a motion was filed the week of June 14 on behalf of Nick Sanders, CEO of Tavern Restaurant Group, claiming many of Victorian Square's allegations were misleading or inaccurate.

The judge's written opinion, filed Tuesday, sustains the original motion by Victorian Square. The opinion said the lease will expire Dec. 31 unless the parties enter into a new agreement or mutually agree to lease terms.

Miller, Victorian Square's attorney, said the judge's decision said exactly what Victorian Square had argued.

"I agree with him 100 percent," Miller said.

He said that all he and Victorian Square could do during the process was make arguments based on the facts and the law.

"We're very respectful of the judge making an independent and reasoned decision," Miller said.

Although he said he considered the case resolved, Tavern Restaurant Group could ask the judge to reconsider within 10 days or appeal the decision within 30 days.

Tavern Restaurant Group's statement said: "Given the impact this ruling has on our hard-working staff, our biggest concern right now is for their well-being. Many of our employees have been with us since we opened, and we are grateful for the dedication and loyalty they have demonstrated throughout our 28-year history. We also want to thank the Lexington community for the support they have shown over the years and in particular the past couple of months."

The statement also said that the group wanted to be part of the new Victorian Square development and that it was disappointing the new landlord did not want to renew its lease. The restaurant will remain open until the lease expires, the statement said.

Nancy Parrott, director of communications for Tavern Restaurant Group, said the long-term future of deSha's was unclear.

"It is in discussion, and it is an option that we might find another location," she said.

Parrott said the group's lawyer, Mark Smedal, said he was reviewing whether further legal action was warranted.

Parrott said she was somewhat surprised by the decision because deSha's has been in the location for so long.

"We were hoping to stay," she said.

Taylor Harrison: (859) 231-1324. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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