VOL. 114 | NO. 215 | Thursday, November 2, 2000
Law firm buys Metro Exchange building
Firm expands on second bail bond row
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
For a law firm doing business in Memphis, Downtown has always been attractive because of the areas proximity to the Shelby County Courthouse at 201 Poplar Ave.
Growing out from the central location on Poplar is proving to also be a viable choice for legal businesses.
One business that recently expanded and chose to remain Downtown is Perkins, Johnson and Settle, PLLC. The firm announced the merger of the offices of Samuel Perkins and Johnson and Settle PC with the announcement the new firm has bought the building at 45 N. Third St.
In order to accommodate its increased staff, the partnership bought the 11,000-square-foot, two-story building where they were previously leasing the top floor.
"Weve always been Downtown and certainly we didnt want to move from the Downtown area. Everyones practice here centers around civil and criminal law. We like Downtown and want to be a part of what is happening," said Florence M. Johnson, managing partner with the firm.
"I think there is a trend with legal businesses I think lawyers are expanding out and people are not rushing to go out East as much as they were before. People have decided that Downtown is a viable place to be and certainly more people are coming in and I think that you will see it open up a lot more in the next three to four years. Were glad we are at the forefront of it."
The practice has a wide variety of law representation including personal injury, product liability, wrongful death, criminal, immigration and real estate law.
One reason the firm is excited about its recent growth is because it is predominately an African-American law partnership.
"What we now understand is that we are the largest African-American firm just about in the Mid-South. We had some competition from a firm in Nashville six people I think. Weve overshadowed them and we are certainly excited about that," Johnson said.
Johnson declined to state the cost of the building.
"It was a reasonable amount, which probably would have been more reasonable two years ago as opposed to what it is now with the ballpark adding to it (the area). But we certainly are happy to get it," Johnson said.
The firm is working with architectural firm Nathan Evans Taylor Coleman Foster to remodel the office.
Bail bond businesses move next door
Perkins, Johnson and Settle is expanding next to an area that seems to be turning into a second bail bond row, a term often used to describe the many offices across from the Shelby County Jail and Courthouse at 201 Poplar Ave., where bail bond businesses have operated for years.
In the past six months, a handful of bail bond businesses have moved to the block on Third Street between Court and Jefferson avenues.
Memphis Bonding, A&A Bail Bonds, Continental Insurance and Bonding Co. Inc. and Alpha Omega Bail Bonding Co. are some of those businesses.
Moving from a prime location on Poplar to Third Street; however, was not a matter of choice, according to the new occupants.
Many of the business owners claim they were displaced by a larger company, Around the Clock Bail Bonds, which leased four offices on Poplar.
Clifton Drake, president and general manager of Continental Insurance and Bonding Co., moved to 59 N. Third after 10 years of business at 240 Poplar Ave.
He said that Around the Clock Bail Bonds purchased leases from nine occupants by offering large advance lease payments to building owners.
"And as a result of that, they wanted to occupy all of Poplar," Drake said.
He added that at the new office, business has slowed down.
"My production is way down. I am mostly surviving off my residuals, my past record, my past history and past services," he said.
The new office is a bit more modern and has better facilities, but the old office across from the jail and courthouse was a better location.
He said there were many conveniences the Poplar location had including being close to the jail and convenience for its agents to post bail, convenient for them to attend court to file petitions or motions, plus convenience for people leaving the jail who need their services.
"Im not particularly happy with the move, but I think we can survive our move. Most of us will have to," Drake said.
George Hitt, owner of Memphis Bonding, relocated to 61 N. Third after operating out of 208 Poplar for 10 years.
He also wanted to stay at the Poplar location; however, when the companys lease was up for renewal, he said the new company "got the leases out from under us," and added that they were given only a 30-day notice and were not given the chance to match the price.
Hitt, however, believes business has not slowed down drastically.
"They have caused a lot of people a lot of unnecessary expense to no avail. Like I said, our business has been status quo. Our business has increased a little since weve moved. Maybe, weve had to work a lot harder," Hitt said.
Chris Foster, regional director of Around the Clock Bail Bonds, disagrees that the company has cultivated any kind of "cornering" of the market on Poplar Ave.
The company operates other offices around the country and moved into the Memphis office at 208 Poplar in July 1999. They also lease four other buildings on Poplar he said, choosing the area for its prime position to the jail.
"History shows us that we like to be across from the jail, thats why we chose this area," Foster said.
He said the move was simply a business decision and would not comment on the terms of the lease.
"I dont know why those folks left Im not saying they cant do business here. They are in business all over the city. I would never get in a business where we monopolized on an industry because that is against the law competition is always health," he said.
Ricky Wilkins, an attorney with Burch Porter and Johnson PLLC, has been contacted by many of the bail bond company owners to see if there is legal liability attached to the relocation and the termination of their leases.
"Im looking into the matter and have not reached any conclusions, but my review is continuing," he said.