Proposed Hotel Part Of County Tax Sale

By Andy Meek

For some people in Shelby County, it's no surprise when the tax man comes knocking after unpaid property taxes have begun to mount. Vince Vaghela, whose Mississippi-based development company wants to convert a Downtown Memphis high-rise into a hotel, is not one of those people.

"It's scheduled to be in the tax sale already?" he asked when a reporter questioned his plans to turn the high-rise at 161 Jefferson Ave. that sits next door to Hill Boren PC's law office into a high-end hotel.

Vaghela said he has not yet bought the property from its current owner.

Unforeseen problem?

But as of Tuesday, it was scheduled to be auctioned off at the Shelby County Tax Sale March 24 at 10 a.m. and was listed with a minimum bid price of more than $167,000. The tax sale will be held on the first floor of the Shelby County Administration Building at 160 North Main St.

Properties sold at the Shelby County Tax Sale are owned by delinquent county taxpayers, who pay separate city and county tax bills. A list of properties scheduled to be included in the sale begin on Page 41 of today's Daily News.

Vibrant Hotels Inc. submitted an application to the Memphis-Shelby County Land Use Control Board in mid-2007 requesting a special-use permit to develop a hotel at the 161 Jefferson site. Built in 1911 and known as the Tenoke Building, the property once housed everything from furniture storage to a military recruitment office.

Shelby County government acquired the building in 2001 after its previous New York-based owner failed to pay taxes on it. The county sold the property to McAlls Investments LP in 2004, which is the group Vaghela has been working with.

"Oh boy, I need to talk to them," Vaghela said about the unpaid tax situation. "As far as I know, we are still planning to go forward."

Other properties

Also scheduled to be sold for unpaid taxes is a 394-unit apartment complex at 5505 Winchester Road owned by Water Gardens LLC. The Shelby County Assessor's 2007 appraisal was $1.6 million. It is included in the tax sale listing with a minimum bid price of $250,040.97.

The single-tenant, two-story commercial building at 414 South Main St., which has housed businesses such as Wendell's World Beat Grill, also is scheduled to be sold. That property is listed with a minimum bid price of $8,638.47.

Other properties tentatively slated to be sold include a 184-unit, three-story hotel building at 1970 East Shelby Drive, which has a minimum bid price of $387,022.70.

Debra Gates, Shelby County's interim trustee, said the trustee's office will work with delinquent taxpayers to help them avoid the impending tax sale.

"We will work with them to either pay the tax in full or even set up payment arrangements to help them avoid losing their property," she said. "And as long as the payment arrangement is reasonable and they meet it, the county of course is not interested in owning the property. We just want to help the person pay off the tax liability and then keep the property."