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VOL. 127 | NO. 93 | Friday, May 11, 2012

Building Owner’s Lawyer Disputes Delay Claims

By Bill Dries

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The attorney for the owners of the building at 118 Madison Ave. facing demolition said Wednesday, May 9, his client is waiting on a city plan for the demolition and is not intentionally trying to delay a resolution that would bring down the barricades blocking a sidewalk and part of the street.

Pedestrians walk around a makeshift wall at 118 Madison Ave. Downtown.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Attorney Leland McNabb represents Robert E. and Phyllis Blake who, as BBB Investments, own the circa-1918 building. They also own three adjoining buildings at 120, 122 and 124 Madison Ave. Like the 118 Madison property, those buildings also had ground level tenants who have since relocated.

The southern portion of the roof at 118 Madison collapsed after a heavy rain in March 2011 and the initial plan by Blake was to try to restore the building possibly without the top floor of the four-story building.

But there were complications including water damage unrelated to the storm itself when the collapsed roof set off the sprinkler system on the building’s occupied ground floor.

The building’s restoration would have required that the building be brought up to more recent seismic standards as well as asbestos abatement, all at a considerable cost.

The wait of more than a year with part of Madison Ave blocked has prompted Memphis City Council member Lee Harris to propose a city ordinance that would fine property owners $200 a day for blocking a sidewalk and/or street for longer than 14 days in instances where no construction is taking place.

McNabb reacted to Harris’ use of the 118 Madison property as an example of the need for the ordinance against property owners who “delay, delay, delay.”

“No one at Blake Enterprises has ever told me to delay anything,” McNabb said. “It is a damned lie. It is a product of imagination and one would hope that a duly elected city official has something better to do than shoot his mouth off without knowing the facts.”

The plan by the Blakes after looking at the costs for repairs and modernization became to demolish the site – all four of the addresses between the west alley and the Exchange Building – and have it cleared in August 2011.

Those plans changed when the owner of the adjoining building that fronts Court Square got involved in the case, saying demolition measures would harm his property.

The building at 119 Court Ave. is older than the Madison building it shares a wall with. And the Court Avenue building has a brick foundation.

The Court property owner, James Meng, was willing to look at the expense of a plan by the two owners that came to $144,000. But Meng said he couldn’t pay his half of that, according to McNabb.

That’s when the city of Memphis got involved and moved for condemnation in Environmental Court last month with Judge Larry Potter ordering the demolition of both by the city with the city billing them through liens on the property.

BBB Investments had spent $246,279 through the end of March, most of it with construction and demolition companies. The concrete brick wall around the front of the property was ordered by the city engineer’s office and cost $28,000, according to McNabb.

And McNabb said the Blakes moved to block the sidewalk with ropes and security guards shortly after the storm damage but quickly discovered people walking through the ropes and around the guards, which forced them to do more.

“It would be better to spend money on something that produced a result. We have done everything we know to do,” McNabb said. “The question is money. Opinions are like noses. Everyone has one. … We’re caught. If we go forward, we get sued.”

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