Floyd County officials are moving to resolve, one way or another, the controversial proposed data center project in the Commerce Park on Christiansburg Pike.
Details of decisions made in an hour-long closed-door session of the Economic Development Authority have not yet been disclosed but the county is obviously moving to either get Data Knight 365 to move on the deal or move on.
I’ve been around a lot of business deals in my life but this one ranks as one of the strangest I’ve ever encountered. Questions continue to haunt Paul Allen, promoter of the project after the State of Ohio shut down his business and a civil suit filed under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act in Tennessee names him in a loan-kiting scheme that nearly brought down a 105-year-old family owned bank.
At this point, Allen is not charged with any crime — either state or federal — but he has been accused of being less than forthright in a deal that fell through at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant and an aborted attempt to buy a networking project in Memphis.
So far, the only name on agreement documents signed with Floyd County officials is William Byler, the Amish businessman from Middlefield, Ohio, who co-owns a woodworking firm with his father and who has partnered with Allen in other ventures. The county based, in large part, its decision to go forward with the deal because on the reported involvement of Power Direct, a Cleveland telemarketing firm run by Dan Delfino.
But Delfino, like others involved in the deal, has not been in contact with the county since Data Knight 365 missed the Sept. 1 deadline for closing on the $900,000 purchase of 51.5 acres of land behind the power substation in the Commerce Park.
A tightly-written performance agreement requires Data Knight to spend $67 million to develop a 120,000 square-foot facility by Sept. 1, 2013. Failure to meet any of several milestones in the agreement gives the county the right to revoke the deal and retain all funds paid to that date and ownership of all improvements made to the property.
Floyd County required Data Knight to furnish three pieces of documentation by closing:
- A documented list of all principals in the project;
- A verifiable letter of credit;
- A detailed explanation of what role Allen now plays or will play in the project.
When the EDA met Tuesday night, the county had not heard from the company nor had Data Knight provided any of the documentation requested.
A lack of communication and failure to turn over required documentation led to the disqualification of Allen’s previous company, B-Telecom Inc., from further consideration in the sale of the Networx project in Memphis a few years ago. Questions over the validity of a letter of credit also became an issue when B-Telecom tried to lease space for a data center operation at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant.
Data Knight’s filings as an LLC (limited liability company) list only Byler as an owner of the company. Byler was also a participant in the failed deal at Radford.
So the county is faced with a data project hampered by a considerable lack of data.
How did an "Amish entrepreneur" who owns wood products stores in Ohio become the owner of record for Data Knight 365, the mysterious company that announced last week it will build a "world class" data center in Floyd’s industrial park.
Good question, but Bill Byler of West Farmington, Ohio, is better known as the co-owner of Amish wood product companies in Middlefield and Cleveland as well as a demolition company.
In November 2007, the Cleveland Plain Dealer profiled Byler, reporting:
Each weekday morning, Bill Byler gets up well before dawn and puts on wool pants, a cotton shirt and a straw hat.
Up to that point, it’s a typical routine for any Amish man.
But few Amish ever do what Byler does next. Rather than climb into a buggy and head for the fields, Byler grabs his cell phone, hops into a taxi and rides 45 miles from his home in rural Middlefield to a spot on West 25th Street just south of Lorain Avenue. Like many other commuters, he leaves early to avoid rush-hour traffic.
Byler is an Amish entrepreneur in the city. Along with his father, Wally, and sister, Ellen, he owns and operates a store in Cleveland called Amish Heritage Wood Floors and Furnishings. The store sells the handiwork of 12 area Amish families, everything from hardwood flooring, tables and entertainment centers to honey, pies, artwork and quilts.
Byler and his father also own Cherokee Hardwoods in Middlefield. The address for that store was the one he used to register the domain name for Data Knight 365 last April. The domain is registered in his name, not the name of the proposed data center company.
Byler is also listed as a partner in Cherokee Demolition of Burton, Ohio. Cherokee has demolition contracts primarily in the Cleveland area.
These days, Byler is not in the woodworking shops, or blowing things up near Lake Erie, but staying in one of two apartments rented by Data Knight 365 in The Station of South Locust, the mixed use project across the street from the Floyd Country Store. While Byler looks and dresses Amish, those who have met him say using a cell phone isn’t the only non-Amish habit he has acquired.
Data Knight 365 didn’t exist until April 13, 2009, the day a Cleveland law firm filed articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. No company officers were listed in that filing. The company’s original filing as an LLC (limited liability corporation) was amended on August 7 — three days ago — to appoint an agent for LLP (limited liability partners) for the company.
The partners: William W. Byler and Laura Mae Byler of West Farmington, Ohio.
The presence of an Amish woodworking shop owner on Data Knight 365’s team is just one other oddity in an operation that is keeping Floyd’s rumor mill going and while others shake their heads and wonder what the heck is going on.
"They’re an odd bunch, that’s for sure," says one local businessman who asked not to be identified. "They sure claim to know a lot about the data center business but the talk is usually a bit short on specifics."
The lack of specifics seems to be a growing problem for the DK3 team. Some who have dealt with the crew cite a growing list of claims that don’t check out. One such claim says the group has built 15 data centers worldwide but a search of public records failed to find a single data center either built or maintained by DK3.
We’re continuing to look into claims made by the DK3 team. The closer we look, the weirder this whole thing gets.
(Updated on August 10 to include additional information on Byler and DK3’s corporate filings.)