Outside of still-under-construction Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown

One month after the owner and developer of the Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown in Ocala, Florida dubbed the hotel’s October grand opening as “a once-in-a-lifetime event,” the latest of at least six unpaid construction work claims was placed against the hotel, according to the Marion County clerk’s office. 

As listed in the lien affidavits, the six contractors are allegedly owed a combined $2.2 million in unpaid work since April of 2020 at the Hilton project — which broke ground in the spring of 2019 and cost over $20 million to build.

The Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown is reportedly the first hotel to operate in the downtown Ocala area in over 50 years. While the project was initially projected to be completed by late 2019, construction delays and the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic delayed the hotel’s opening to October 26, 2020.

The latest construction lien, commonly known as a mechanics lien, was filed by the project’s general contractor, McLauchlin & Company, four weeks after the Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown opened for business. 

McLauchlin & Company’s $1.77 million lien — marking the largest known claim to date — was filed against property owner Downtown Ocala, LLC, which is owned by Ocala-based developer Danny Gaekwad, according to the Ocala Star-Banner

A spokeswoman from Danny Gaekwad’s office declined to comment on the mechanics lien filings.

Mechanics liens are a debt recovery tool that is widely used by unpaid contractors. The act of filing a lien provides contractors with a security interest in real property, which can then encumber the property title. 

Each unpaid construction work claim was processed in accordance with Florida mechanics lien statutes, which state claimants have up to one year to foreclose on a mechanics lien. The process of foreclosure — also referred to as enforcing a lien — involves a lawsuit, which could potentially force a property owner to sell off their property in order to satisfy their debt to a contractor. 

As of December of 2020, all six contractors are well within their rights to enforce their mechanics lien claims. 

Six contractors owed $2.2M at Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown project

Six contractors are allegedly owed a combined $2,226,302.45 for their work in constructing the Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown, located at 120 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL.

McLauchlin & Company claim they are still owed $1,775,842.23 after furnishing the project between July of 2018 and September of 2020, according to their lien affidavit filed on November 25, 2020. 

The GC’s lien affidavit also states their contract with Downtown Ocala, LLC was worth $16,141,984.32. 

A project manager from McLauchlin & Company could not be reached for comment. 

McLauchlin & Company is now facing at least five mechanics lien claims from five subcontractors at the Hilton Garden Inn project, totaling a combined $450,460.22 in unpaid work. 

One such lien, valued at $9,500, was filed just 10 days before the hotel opened its doors to the public.

The largest of the five liens filed against McLauchlin & Company is worth $265,577.71 from claimant subcontractor, Diversakore. The structural framing contractor filed the claim on May 14, 2020 after servicing the project between October of 2018 and April of 2020. 

A controller from Diversakore has yet to respond to a request for comment. 

Initial construction delays and COVID-19 slowdown caused 11-month delay for hotel opening

According to the Ocala Star-Banner, property owner Danny Gaekwad had plans to open the Hilton Garden Inn back in late 2019. 

Gainesville, Florida ABC affiliate WCJB reported in April of 2019 the project had already experienced several delays shortly after breaking ground. The ABC affiliate also reported in April of 2019 that the Hilton was originally slated to be completed in November of 2019 before being pushed back to January of 2020 — roughly three months prior to the state and federal shutdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Between the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic and foregoing construction delays, Gaekward was forced to push back the hotel’s opening until late October of 2020. 

Gaekwad is a first-generation American entrepreneur that was born in India. Since moving to the US in the late 1980s, Gaekwad has developed various types of construction projects throughout the Sunshine State, including real estate, IT facilities, and hospitality buildings. 

“I put everything into this,” Gaekwad told the Star-Banner regarding the new Hilton in September of 2020 following the abysmal demand for hotels following the rise of COVID-19. 

“When you put tens of millions of dollars into something, every night you sit at the dining room table, and you worry. You start doubting. This was totally unknown. There was nothing like this I had ever seen,” Gaekwad said.

The Star-Banner also reported that parts of the project were not completed by the hotel’s grand opening, including a 12,000-square-foot food hall located on the first floor. 

Days prior to the October opening, Gaekward told the Star-Banner he plans to construct a second building at the site of the Hilton Garden Inn Ocala Downtown. The two-story facility will reportedly house Gaekwad’s offices and two additional restaurants. 

Two additional Hilton projects across Florida hit with liens in 2020

Since January of 2020, the construction of at least two additional Hiltons across the Sunshine State has led to mechanics lien filings. 

The two Hiltons, located in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, resulted in construction disputes worth over $6 million in unpaid work. 

Combined with the lien filed in Ocala, the three disputed Hilton hotels in Florida tally over $8 million. 

Read more about the Hilton construction disputes in Florida: