Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter, reversing a previous decision, upheld a 2013 transfer of Ashlar Hall from Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges to an acquaintance who wants to turn the stately but decaying property into a home for military veterans.
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has upheld a transfer of Ashlar Hall from Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
However, Potter said that while he approved the transfer of the property, other groups interested in rehabilitating and operating the building could still pursue their plans and that he will pick the plan that has the best chance for success.
“My concern is for a quick turnaround of this structure,” said Potter during a Friday, Feb. 28, hearing. “If there were to be a better plan that is better financed or a much faster turnaround of the rehabilitation of the property, the plans of whatever is presented will be reviewed.”
Last month, a furious Potter nullified the transfer of Ashlar Hall to Kenny Medlin after Medlin failed to produce a plan for repairing and operating the building. But Medlin, who operates the nonprofit Urban Renaissance Initiative, submitted his plan to Potter during a closed-door meeting in the judge’s chambers Friday.
“Mr. Medlin has presented me a financing plan whereby he hopes to renovate Ashlar Hall and where he intends to get the resources,” said Potter.
Hodges entered into an agreement with Potter’s court and the city last year to find a new owner that could make the repairs necessary to bring the 11,114-square-foot building into compliance. But Hodges deeded the property over to Medlin without Potter’s consent.
One other group is still actively pursuing Ashlar Hall.
Joe Thordarson, founder of the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, hopes to turn the building into a center for the arts.
“My concern is for a quick turnaround of this structure. If there were to be a better plan that is better financed or a much faster turnaround of the rehabilitation of the property, the plans of whatever is presented will be reviewed.”
–Judge Larry Potter
“The question of ownership was settled today, but the question of use of the building was not, and I’m going to double-down on my pursuit of creating the Ashlar Hall Center for the Arts,” said Thordarson.
Ty Cobb, founder of the nonprofit Have a Standard Foundation, was considering plans to turn the building into a center for experiential learning. Cobb’s foundation operates the CoreFire Commando learning program inside the AutoZone Challenge Center at the Kroc Center, which uses challenging games to foster an environment of innovation and teamwork. But Cobb, who previously said he would need title to the property in order to pursue fundraising, said after the hearing that he would no longer pursue Ashlar Hall as long as Medlin was in control.
“Is this a person motivated to do good, or is this a person interested in a building for profit?” said Cobb.
Ashlar Hall, which was built in 1897 and served as the home of real estate developer Robert Brinkley Snowden, has turned into a dilapidated eyesore.
Hodges’ brother, Bernard Hodges, acquired the property for $300,000 in 1993 before transferring it via warranty deed to 1397 Central Ave LP in 1994. Robert Hodges began operating The Castle nightclub at the property after his brother acquired it, before closing the club’s doors around a decade later. The building has been vacant and deteriorating ever since, racking up a host of city code violations.
Potter said his goal is to find a viable owner that can save the building from the wrecking ball. Potter said he would personally tour the property to survey the existing damage before the next court hearing April 11.
“The court is concerned about the roof and the stone,” said Potter.