VOL. 114 | NO. 75 | Tuesday, April 18, 2000
By Stacey Wiedower
Hunt-Phelan auction still on, despite offers
By Stacey Wiedower
The Daily News
Much to the chagrin of many Mid-Southerners, the auctioning of Memphis famed Hunt-Phelan Home appears to be on schedule, as no foundation or individual has yet stepped forward with an offer deemed acceptable by the non-profit foundation board that governs the home.
But, though time is running out, the fact that the clock is still ticking means the fate of the house is not yet sealed.
There are liability issues that come into play as far as stopping the highly publicized auction, scheduled for May 5-8, said Tom Buckner, board member and attorney for the Hunt-Phelan Foundation. But, even at this late date, a strong enough offer could put an end to the auction that threatens to separate the 170-year-old home from its original, historic contents.
"Wed have to take into account how good the offer was," Buckner said. "If its good enough, why, wed be willing to risk some legal liability."
But, the closer the auction date gets, the more problematic the liability issues become. This fact weighs heavily on organizations such as the Memphis Heritage Foundation and a group of local women headed by Gayle Rose, who have worked to raise funds in hopes of purchasing the home. Both groups have made offers to the board, and both were declined.
With the Memphis City Councils decision to delay for 60 days a vote that potentially would grant $1 million in city funds to help such an organization buy and preserve the home, it seems the homes best hope at this point is, as Memphis Heritage spokesperson Robert Dye put it, "help from the hand of God."
Buckner said from the boards perspective, the ideal situation for the house would be an offer that could put an end to the auction before it starts.
"The best hope would be that some 501(c)(3) would come forward to buy the house and all its contents and keep it together as one," he said. "But, time is growing extremely short."
Dye said the most positive scenario he can see for the home is for someone to purchase it, then donate it with an endowment to the national trust to be made a trust property.
"The national trust came down and said the only way they would even accept the house is if it had an endowment tagged along with it of at least $2 million to run it," said Dye, cultural resource survey coordinator for Memphis Heritage.
"Graceland makes money and the Biltmore (the former Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C.) makes money, but outside of that, most other ones lose money or are funded by outside sources."
The City Councils decision to delay the vote that could pour as much as $1 million into a fund for the home also hinges on hopes of a last-minute buyer that will keep the house and its contents intact.
By delaying the vote, the Council prevented the resolution from being tossed out entirely, keeping it alive for a potential endowment fund down the road, said Council member Brent Taylor.
Otherwise, the city would have been excluded not only from participating in the homes purchase, but also from contributing to its future upkeep.
"The votes were not there for the million dollar expenditure," Taylor said. "We delayed it so that after that 60 days, after the auction, the city would still be able to pass that resolution for the $1 million to go to an endowment."
Dan Hope, community relations manager for the Memphis Museum System, said the suggestion has been made many times that the museum system take over historic properties such as the Hunt-Phelan Home. Currently, the system administers two city-owned properties, the Mallory-Neely House and the Magevney House. But, no plans have been discussed to do the same for the Hunt-Phelan Home at this point.
"Those are really the only two historic properties we have," Hope said. "We dont on a regular basis take over historic properties that the city acquires, and I dont know that the city is in the habit of taking over many historic properties."
Aside from a pre-auction purchase that would keep the house united with its contents, the next best hope for preserving the history of the home resides in the contents themselves, Dye said.
Memphis Heritage has been collecting money to bid on various items at the auction, such as documents, which represent an important period in Memphis history, he added.
"If someone starts raising a lot of money, well put all our money in with them (to go toward purchase of the house)," he said. "If not, we will bid on items at the auction ourselves."
Items bought by the city or for the city could become part of the Memphis-Shelby County archives, Dye said.
If the auction is held as planned, the house and the 2.7 acres it stands on will be sold by the Hunt-Phelan Foundation, the non-profit organization that owns them. The homes contents and a tract of land behind the house will be sold and profits received by owner Bill Day.
Proceeds from the sale of the home and land owned by the foundation would first be used to pay the organizations debts and liabilities, Buckner said. The use of any leftover funds will be voted on by the board, and could be used to continue the foundation to assist in the restoration of other antebellum homes and historic structures, he added.
"That would be the initial thought, but we have to wait and see how much money we have, and who buys the home and all those factors, which are hard to anticipate," Buckner said.