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Barros attempts to rebound from failed business venture

MANSFIELD -- The replica parquet floor -- a tribute to the famous hardwood he long graced with his game at the Garden -- still shimmers in the Dana Barros Sports Complex. But Barros is gone, abruptly walking away from a failed business venture that cost him more than $2.5 million and plunged him into a legal jam in which a judge has granted one of his creditors a $650,000 attachment on his real estate holdings, including his Milton home.

Little more than a year after Barros realized a dream by opening his multipurpose sports complex, the former NBA and Boston College star had endured so many financial and legal headaches that he abandoned the project last month and began pursuing a career as a college basketball coach.

``It was a big mess from the time I opened it," said Barros, who made his way out of Mattapan to play 14 years in the NBA with the SuperSonics, 76ers, Celtics, and Pistons. ``It wasn't what I thought it was going to be."

Nearly all that remains of Barros's connection to the 80,000-square-foot complex is his name on the sign, his signature on the lease, and the debt that dogs him. He is entangled in two lawsuits in Bristol County Superior Court in which construction companies are seeking nearly $800,000 in unpaid bills.

``Dana has suffered immeasurably from this," said Celtics assistant executive director of basketball operations Leo Papile, who once coached Barros and last month tried to help him by donating Nike sneakers and apparel to outfit youth teams Barros sponsored through the sports complex.

Barros, 39, who earned an estimated $26 million in the NBA, has spent part of the last year trying to protect the balance of his personal wealth from creditors. He said his plan for the business went awry in part because construction costs rapidly swelled to about $2 million from a projected $1.1 million.

``I wanted to be a businessman," Barros said in a telephone interview. ``Then I learned I didn't want to be that kind of businessman."

A Celtics television analyst for Fox Sports New England, Barros also stars in his own show -- ``In The House" -- on the network. The sports complex marked his first major business venture since he ended his NBA career with the Celtics in 2004, and he pursued a highly ambitious plan. In addition to the parquet basketball venue, he installed a fitness center, turf soccer field, batting cages, and a restaurant. He also hosted a night of boxing.

But Barros tried to accomplish too much too fast, he said, particularly because in hindsight he relied on some bad business advice.

``I should have gone a little smaller," he said, ``and not tried to do so much."

By last summer, the project's prime contractor, Trace Construction of Needham, filed a lawsuit alleging that Barros ``fraudulently misrepresented" his ability to pay his bills and ``negligently provided false information" about his financial status. Trace is seeking $738,000, plus interest and legal costs, and a subcontractor, Quinn Bros. of Essex Inc., is suing Barros for $58,095.

``Everything is threatened with lawsuits," said Barros, who denied acting fraudulently or negligently. ``I don't want to be in that position. I feel overexposed."

Trace president Bruce Jaffin said in a telephone interview that the company has waited more than a year to get paid for contract requirements it fulfilled.

``Most of the funds are due to subcontractors, and the nonpayment has put them in a precarious financial situation," Jaffin said. ``We are trying to resolve this issue with Dana."

Trace alleged in court that Barros reacted to the lawsuit in part by ``actively purging his real estate holdings of their equity" to shield personal assets.

Trace claimed Barros took out $2.4 million in mortgages last year on his mansion-style home in Milton, which previously was mortgage-free. The 17-room home, with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and two half-baths, is situated on more than 3 acres and assessed at $3.24 million.

The construction company alleged Barros also assumed a $767,000 mortgage on a residential property he bought in Dedham in 2002 for $575,000. He previously had discharged $813,150 in mortgages on the property.

In addition, Barros's mother, Stephanie Mondesire, who worked with him at the sports complex, took out a $322,500 mortgage in December 2004 on her home in Stoughton, according to Trace's lawsuit. She had bought the home from Barros in 1997 for $204,000, with Barros loaning her the money.

All the mortgage activity occurred after Barros told Trace executives in October 2004 that ``he had `plenty of money' . . . and was going to finance the project himself," Jaffin said in an affidavit.

Barros, in opposing Trace's request for the attachment, said in court filings he never signed a guarantee that would make him personally liable for the debt. He said Trace incorrectly stated the amount of mortgages he assumed on his personal property, placing the figure at $1.6 million rather than $2.4 million. And he said he secured the mortgages not to shield his assets but to fund the project, which included paying Trace more than $1.3 million in construction costs (he said he invested about $1.2 million in additional expenses).

Barros argued in court documents the construction company went after his personal assets only after unanticipated increases in construction costs put the complex in financial peril. The company sought an $800,000 attachment on Barros's property.

``Trace is abusing the judicial process by trying to put undue pressure on [me]," Barros stated in opposing the attachment.

The court, however, granted the $650,000 attachment, ruling ``there is a reasonable likelihood that [Trace] will recover judgment, including interest and costs, in an amount equal to or greater than [$650,000.]"

Trace executives asserted in court that Barros told them during settlement talks last November that he planned to immediately sell his Milton home to help resolve the issue. Barros disputed that assertion, though he said in an interview that he hoped to complete negotiations soon with the company.

``I'm sure I'm culpable for some of [the debt], but I don't think I'm culpable for all of it," he said. ``So, we're going to settle it and get rid of all my headaches."

He indicated he was most concerned about keeping his business liabilities separate from his personal finances.

``There's a difference between your personal life and business," said Barros, who has two children, ages 9 and 7, with his wife, Veronica. ``I'm not going to not pay my bills at home and pour money into the business."

Barros said some parents expected him to use his personal money to rescue the Dana Barros Playaz youth basketball program, which also ran into financial trouble at the complex. Barros attributed the problem in part to an organizer booking $40,000 in court time and not paying for it.

``He came to me with this elaborate plan and then backed out," Barros said. ``I got screwed over, and everybody is pointing fingers at me."

He said some parents who wanted him to bail out the program went so far as to remind him that he lives in a luxury home and drives a Hummer.

``Some people are watching too much MTV," he said.

When Barros finally decided to abandon the complex -- ``The day-to-day stuff was just killing me," he said -- he accepted a $65,000-a-year job as an assistant to Northeastern men's basketball coach Bill Coen.

``I want to be a [college] coach," Barros said, ``and I have to put in the time."

As for his personal finances, Barros said he remains on sound footing.

``I put a good chunk of money into [the complex], but I've got more money -- maybe not NBA money -- and I'll make more money," he said. ``I'm doing well, so it's not the end of the world."

Barros also is liable for the 3 1/2-year balance of his five-year lease with Oxford Road Realty Trust, which owns the property at the sports complex.

``He has relinquished the facility because of his inability to keep up with the payments," said Mike Keneally, a partner in the realty trust and Accutech, which has taken over management of the complex.

Accutech is talking to a number of parties about either leasing the basketball center or buying the complex, according to Keneally.

``Something really good has been started there, and it would be nice if that continued," he said.

If Accutech sells the complex or finds a suitable replacement for Barros, the company may look favorably on freeing Barros from his remaining obligation, Keneally indicated.

``He needs to move on because this venture didn't work out for him," Keneally said. ``He's a first-class person and he's good to the community. We wish him the best at Northeastern."

Barros indicated he will be relieved to put the ordeal behind him. In addition to relishing his new job at Northeastern, he said he looks forward to running his summer basketball camp, returning to his television work, and maintaining his real estate holdings.

``I've been blessed," he said. ``I've got a good life. I want to get back to it."

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