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VOL. 129 | NO. 24 | Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Competing Bidders Emerge for Ashlar Hall

By Amos Maki

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Two people that had once considered teaming up to acquire and renovate crumbling Ashlar Hall are going their separate ways.

Ashlar Hall, built in 1897 just off Central Avenue, could have two bidders interested in redeveloping the property.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Joe Thordarson, founder of the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, and Ty Cobb, founder of the nonprofit Have a Standard Foundation, said this week that they are now pursuing separate plans to gain control of the Midtown mansion.

“I met with Ty Cobb last week to discuss how we might share the space, but we found that there is just no realistic way to do it,” Thordarson said. “So we have both decided to pursue the acquisitions separately. I suppose you could say that we are now in friendly competition.”

The future of Ashlar Hall has been in the hands of Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter since its owner Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges entered into an agreement with Potter’s court and the city to find a new owner that could make the repairs necessary to bring the 11,114-square-foot building into compliance.

Thordarson was the first person to present Potter a plan to reuse Ashlar Hall. The local remodeling contractor would like to transform the castle-like building on Central Avenue into an arts, education and events center showcasing fantasy and science fiction art, literature and events.

Thordarson is planning a Feb. 15 demonstration at the University Club, on the opposite side of Central Avenue near Ashlar Hall, to give the community a preview – complete with local filmmakers, artists and writers – of how he would use the building.

“The concept for what we want to do is so unique we want to give people a taste of what it’s all about,” Thordarson said. “The Mid-South doesn’t have any venue like what we’re proposing.”

Meanwhile, Cobb, whose foundation operates the CoreFire Commando learning program inside the AutoZone Challenge Center at the Kroc Center, is pursuing a plan to turn Ashlar Hall into an experiential learning venue designed to motivate students and mentors.

CoreFire Commando participants are given “missions” – such as responding to a natural disaster or helping rescue hospital patients in a war zone – to foster an environment of innovation and teamwork.

“You’ve got to work together as a team to overcome obstacles and succeed on that mission,” Cobb said.

Cobb and Thordarson have each shown the ability to organize and raise funds, which will be important factors in their drives to acquire Ashlar Hall.

Potter has emphasized that whoever wants to acquire the building will have to provide detailed plans on how they would finance future renovations and operations.

“I cannot and will not accept any proposal unless that structure can be dealt with in an immediate fashion … so we can stop the bleeding,” Potter said during a Jan. 27 hearing.

Thordarson started the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention from scratch.

The fourth annual convention, held last year, attracted thousands of children, including around 1,300 who flocked to the Kroc Center Oct. 25 to participate in “Geek 101,” which featured comic book artists and characters, craftspeople and local filmmakers. Thordarson also shares his passion for the arts with children each year in school classroom visits.

Thordarson said other contractors have pledged to donate their time and services to repair the building.

“I think we have the ability to get around 80 percent of the repairs done now, but once we do the fundraising we’ll be able to take care of all the repairs,” Thordarson said.

Cobb is not a Kroc Center employee but operates the CoreFire Commando program there in addition to his existing location in Cordova.

Cobb’s Have a Standard Foundation brought in $3.2 million in revenue from 2006 through 2012, according to state records. Around $1.2 million came from “public contributions,” with the rest coming from fees individuals, groups and business pay to take part in the CoreFire Commando course and host events such as birthday parties.

“People who have supported us in the past, we’re going to go to them and see what their interest level is in seeing this happen,” Cobb said. “When there’s been a need before, people have come forward.”

The once stately Ashlar Hall, which was built in 1897 and served as the home of real estate developer Robert Brinkley Snowden, has turned into a dilapidated eyesore.

Hodges’ brother, Bernard Hodges, acquired the property for $300,000 in 1993 before transferring it via warranty deed to 1397 Central Ave LP in 1994. Robert Hodges began operating The Castle nightclub at the property after his brother acquired it, before closing the club’s doors around a decade later. The building has been vacant and deteriorating ever since, racking up a host of city code violations.

Potter said his goal is to find a viable owner that can save the building from the wrecking ball. Cobb will have to submit his plan for the property to Potter at a planned Feb. 28 hearing.

“I have to see where you’re going with it,” Potter told Cobb Jan. 27. “I have to see the potential.”

PROPERTY SALES 105 193 8,028
MORTGAGES 120 239 9,024
BUILDING PERMITS 192 445 17,512
BANKRUPTCIES 27 69 5,228