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VOL. 127 | NO. 135 | Thursday, July 12, 2012

Former Southwest Twin Drive-In Coming Down

By Bill Dries

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The old Southwest Twin drive-in theater at South Third Street and Raines Road is the property of the federal Homeland Security Department for the time being.

One of the old screens is still there at the busy corner through the Westwood, Coro Lake and Indian Hills communities. But trees in front of the screen block about a third of the height of it.

City crews began Wednesday, July 11, taking down the tin siding along the Third Street side of the property and preparing the area that was most recently a flea market for eventual demolition.

“This is not going to be another eyesore that we’re switching from one eyesore and turning it into another kind of eyesore,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said. “This is not simply about blight. … They attract crime and the criminal element just like flies to a dead animal.”

The work is a milestone in years of complaints by leaders of the Westwood, Indian Hills and Coro Lake neighborhood groups who said the flea market, during and after its regular business hours brought more than blight to the neighborhoods around the busy intersection.

A burned-out building on the lot is what is left of a meth lab.

City Council member Edmund Ford Jr., whose district includes the area, noted Wednesday that the stretch of Third Street has been designated as a “Blues Highway” by state officials.

“When you look at this what used to be a drive-in, nothing signifies blues like this. This is just unacceptable,” he said. “It was frustrating for community leaders, elected leaders and others on how long the process took.”

The process included a criminal case against the owner that led to the property being signed over to the federal government.

Fredrick Thomas Goodfellow, the owner of the property, pleaded guilty June 14 to one count of smuggling goods into the U.S. – specifically counterfeit Rolex watches. Goodfellow pleaded guilty to a criminal information – a criminal charge and guilty plea all in one hearing.

As part of the case, the federal government seized the property and intends to eventually auction it off once liens on the property are cleared, said U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton.

“We’ve seen this from not only the seizure and shutting down what’s been an eyesore in this community, but to fruition that now this property will be sold back into the hands of the government and at some point back into the hands of the public,” Stanton said. “It also sends a message to those who would seek to sell counterfeit products – that it won’t be tolerated.”

Wharton said at one point Goodfellow had expressed interest in selling the metal on the site as scrap but abandoned that. That was the most recent obstacle in a technical process in which Wharton credited U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, for helping to cut through the government red tape.

Wharton said the action signals that the city and others will hold property owners to a higher level of responsibility.

“If you own it and you let folks sell this hot stuff on it, we’re going to take the property away from you,” he said.

The property is being managed by URS Federal Services Inc., based in Tampa, Fla.

“Right now it’s in the title clearing process,” said Mark Wheelus, southeast region operation manager for URS. “Everything has to be sold free and clear of all liens, mortgages and encumbrances. As soon as that’s done, it will be marketed and it will be auctioned to the highest bidder. We don’t know when that will be – hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Wheelus said he’s already heard from some interested parties including someone who has expressed interest in reopening it as a drive-in movie theater.

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