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VOL. 124 | NO. 62 | Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Marina Cove Development Deeper in Decline

By Eric Smith

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The sad tale of the Marina Cove apartments at 5505 Winchester Road in Hickory Hill should be nearing its end, but a final chapter for the beleaguered property has yet to be written. And whether a sequel is in the works remains to be seen.

Marina Cove has a checkered past, to say the least. The 394-unit, 24.16-acre complex, which sits on the south side of Winchester Road east of South Mendenhall Road, was built in 1973 and for a long time was a high-occupancy property, popular for its central location and attractive layout that included a network of canals running through it.

But Marina Cove has been empty for nearly three years following a city-mandated eviction of all residents because the property was deemed unsafe and uninhabitable.

Keven Patterson, principal of Marina Cove ownership group, Water Gardens LLC of Atlanta, wasn’t available for comment for this article, and attempts to reach him for previous articles were unsuccessful.

But Patterson authorized Roebuck Auctions of Memphis to speak on behalf of Water Gardens about the future of the property and also sell it at a public auction March 17. That event fizzled, admitted John Roebuck, who stopped the auction midway through because of lack of interest and bids well below asking price, in the “$350,000 to $360,000 range.”

“I put it on hold,” Roebuck said. “Now, I’m advertising and still taking bids on it.”

Step right up

Roebuck touted the property as a good investment, calling it a “diamond in the rough” that could provide a nice return for someone with a little cash.

“I think it’s well laid out, it’s got a lot of land there with it and it just needs somebody because I think the demand is certainly there for apartments – 394 apartments is pretty darn good if the lot’s already done,” Roebuck said. “Somebody will get into that thing for pennies on the dollar, in my opinion, and put some money in it and they got a great place. That used to be ‘the place.’”

Beanie Self, executive director of the Southeast Memphis Community Development Corp., agreed that Marina Cove was indeed a “hot place” back in the day.

Now, it’s anything but.

The deteriorated property is riddled with rats and graffiti, snakes and squatters. Doors and windows have been stolen, its parking lot was flooded on a recent visit and one of the driveways into the property was turned into an ad hoc used-car lot.

Self, whose history with the property dates back six years, is disgusted with the way Marina Cove devolved. She would like to see it put to use for the Southeast Memphis community, offering ideas such as the city or county taking it over and handing it over to the Memphis Land Bank or a nonprofit group such as Habitat for Humanity of Memphis.

But she knows that isn’t likely to happen. She has experienced resistance by a variety of government agencies, which claim to have their hands tied regarding the property.

“It just sits there and nothing happens with it,” Self said. “Nothing’s going to happen with it. It’s like a can of worms that gets worse and worse and worse.”

Infectious disease

Water Gardens bought the complex for $1.6 million in 2004. Patterson at that time applied to the Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement, promising to invest $10.5 million in upgrades to the property.

But that never happened. The health board withdrew its PILOT agreement, and Water Gardens let the property degrade into shambles, failing to follow through on proposed plans to bring it up to code and make it livable.

“Had they been able to put their money together, obviously it would have gone forward,” said John Baker, executive director of the HEHFB. “But they couldn’t, and I don’t know what all their obstacles were. We did what we felt like we could do, and hung out and hung out for that group, thinking it would happen, but it didn’t. If it had come together, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Now, Water Gardens owes about $95,000 in county taxes, according to the Shelby County Trustee’s Web site. Last fall that total was about $130,000 in county taxes dating back to 2005.

The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s 2009 appraisal of Marina Cove is $1.6 million – although that is almost exclusively the land. The multi-building complex was appraised at $100.

The asking price is, of course, much lower than that, and Roebuck harbors hopes that a private investor will come in and offer just enough for the owner to sell.

“I think they would take half a million dollars for the thing, but they may not,” Roebuck said. “We’re taking bids for the next two weeks, and then we’re closing down.”

Depends on the beholder

The biggest problem, of course, is the way Marina Cove shows. Sources told The Daily News the condition of the property had deteriorated so much that sophisticated multifamily owners don’t think it’s worth repositioning the complex.

Even Roebuck acknowledges that the unsightly property is an immediate deterrent.

“They’re interested in it real highly until they get out there and look at it,” Roebuck said. “And then it’s kind of a turnoff. If they look at it in a positive way, I think it’s a goldmine sitting there waiting for someone to throw some money at it and make something happen out of it.”

Baker is doubtful it can be saved. He said he talked to a number of people about the property, many of whom didn’t think it could be refurbished when Water Gardens took over in 2004.

Roebuck said, at the very least, the land underneath the blighted buildings is worth the price tag. But there has been much debate over the cost of razing the structures.

“I think you could go in, knock it all down and haul that stuff off and start from scratch,” he said. “You’ve got 24 acres right there on Winchester and that’s pretty awesome. You could build a lot of stuff and a lot of things in there. It could be a nice little community. Somebody’s going to make some money off of it.”

To read past articles on Marina Cove, visit the April 4, 2008, and Sept. 11, 2008, editions of The Daily News, www.memphisdailynews.com.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 110 154 13,810
MORTGAGES 135 193 18,019
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 1 29 3,534
BUILDING PERMITS 430 430 32,733
BANKRUPTCIES 52 130 13,133
BUSINESS LICENSES 20 45 4,750
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 83 204 20,104
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 33 4,230

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