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VOL. 126 | NO. 210 | Thursday, October 27, 2011

Midtown Site in Flux as Neil’s Plans Move

By Sarah Baker

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After nearly 20 years, prominent Midtown restaurant and entertainment venue Neil’s Bar is on the hunt for a new home.

The property on which Neil’s previously stood at 1835 Madison Ave. is owned by Don McCormack and Ceylon Blackwell.

A fire destroyed Neil’s in August, leaving only the foundation. And Blackwell said rebuilding it doesn’t make sense in this economy.

“If we rebuilt it, we’d probably have a piece of property worth about the same as the lot would be worth,” Blackwell said. “I’m 68 years old and I don’t want to owe any more money if I can, I’m trying to get out of debt.”

Built in 1947, the 9,618-square-foot space sits on 31,102 square feet at the southwest corner of Madison and South McLean Street. The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s 2011 appraisal is $406,100.

Blackwell said the "most successful renter" of the former 7,373-square-foot space was Bill and Jim’s Restaurant, which was housed there until the late 1980s. That venture too ended as a result of a fire before Neil’s took over in the early 1990s.

But a restaurant is not the highest and best use for that property, Blackwell said.

“Multifamily’s all around it,” he said. “Probably the highest and best use for it would be some sort of multifamily.”

Plus, Neil’s five-year lease is up in March, Blackwell said, and the estimates were six to eight months to rebuild.

“We couldn’t get it rebuilt by March,” he said. “So, we just decided to take the insurance money and get it cleared off, looking good. I probably wouldn’t even put it on the market in this economy. Maybe hold onto it for a couple of years and pay the taxes and so forth and then put it on.”

In addition to investing in the lot, Blackwell also sells residential real estate for Crye-Leike Realtors Inc. He hasn’t put much thought into marketing the property, but has “already had people talking” to him about it.

“This is a very, very challenging market,” Blackwell said. “And there’s a lot of good stuff out there that’s just sitting. If they’d offer me enough money, we’d sell it, but that’s just not going to happen in this market.”

Part of Blackwell and McCormack’s property houses Madison Automotive, and that tenant is interested in "staying awhile," Blackwell said.

“We’re going to try to work with Madison Automotive any way we can to help them out and not put them out in the cold,” he said. “He pays enough to pretty much pay the taxes and insurance on it. In other words, if we do sell it, I’ll put in there that they’ve got a right to be there for a certain number of months to find another location.”

Meanwhile, bar owner Neil Heins has been keeping his restaurant’s Facebook page updated and engaged. It’s a medium Neil has used to communicate with his nearly 5,000 Facebook friends, especially since the August fire.

Since then, Neil’s has been open on a part-time basis – holding mostly concerts and special events – in the space next door, The Vine. Blackwell and McCormack’s ownership does not include that 1819 Madison Ave. property.

On Oct. 16, Heins released the news of Neil’s departure from 1835 Madison, ending with, “I am not ready to retire … so if you know of a building that wants to hold the best music club and bar please give me a call.”

The most recent post from Monday, Oct. 24, said, “Still looking for a new spot and working on a few things – I sort of like the (Overton) Square because of the location but I will try to keep everybody informed.”

Overton Square would certainly be a different feel than Neil’s familiar spot at Madison and McLean.

On the remaining three corners of that intersection are a convenience station, restaurant and multifamily mixed-use building, and a retail strip center owned by local investors Richard Lynch and Todd Weddle.

The duo bought the decades-old, 13,329-square-foot space at the northeast corner of Madison and McLean in February 2008, and has completely renovated the exterior and the majority of the interior bays, which are now 100 percent occupied.

A similar fate could await 1835 Madison, Lynch said.

“I think it’s going to need a major renovation for any modern type of use there, just like we did,” Lynch said. “I think there’s a good market in Midtown for renovated, modern space.”

Future possibilities that would command a market rent for the space, Lynch said, include retail, some type of food service user, or both.

“It’s a big space, it’s a bigger space than most local bars and grills would have,” he said. “A mixed-use type of development would probably be good, you’ve got limited parking there, which you do at most establishments in Midtown, so I think that’s an issue for a true retail space.”

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