Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has invalidated Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges’ November transfer of Ashlar Hall to acquaintance Kenny Medlin, after Medlin did not produce a plan for rehabilitating the property.
On Jan. 13, Potter gave Medlin two weeks to produce a viable plan for how he would finance much-needed repairs at Ashlar Hall and how he would operate the property going forward. Medlin could not produce either during a hearing Monday, Jan. 27, which clearly upset Potter.
“If you want to play ball, you have to play by my rules,” Potter told Medlin, his voice rising. “Obviously, you don’t want to play ball. You’re not getting this property.”
“If you want to play ball, you have to play by my rules. Obviously, you don’t want to play ball.”
–Judge Larry Potter,
Medlin, who had previously said he wanted to turn Ashlar Hall into a home for terminally ill children, left just after Potter’s admonishment before the hearing finished.
Hodges has been looking for a new owner for Ashlar Hall after he was hit with thousands of dollars’ worth of code violations last year and 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 property into compliance. Hodges transferred the property to Medlin in November without Potter’s consent.
Potter repeatedly emphasized that whoever wants to acquire the 11,114-square-foot, castle-like building on Central Avenue will have to provide detailed plans on how they would finance future renovations and operations.
“To come in here and show me nothing will never be accepted,” said Potter. “If you have an interest in this property, then what I need is a formal proposal submitted to this court.”
Joe Thordarson, founder of the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, has submitted a proposal to transform Ashlar Hall into an arts and education center. Thordarson, a local remodeling contractor, said other contractors have stepped forward to make the necessary repairs.
Ty Cobb, whose nonprofit Have A Standard Foundation operates the CoreFire Commando learning course at the Kroc Center, told Potter he was interested in bringing a new headquarters for the experiential learning challenge to Ashlar Hall.
Cobb said he toured Ashlar Hall with Hodges Saturday, Jan. 25, and that repairs would likely require a massive fundraising effort.
“It’s going to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Cobb.
Cobb and Thordarson said they could partner on a potential redevelopment of Ashlar Hall, but Cobb emphasized that it would be important for fundraising purposes that his nonprofit have title to the property.
“If I’m going to go and ask somebody for money, our nonprofit somehow has to have the title in its name,” said Cobb.
Thordarson, who has worked with Cobb on the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, said the two sides would try to hammer out an agreement.
“We have to discuss that,” said Thordarson. “I have a real specific idea for how we can use (Ashlar Hall), but if we can partner, that’s OK.”
Potter said Cobb would need to submit rehabilitation and operational plans before the next hearing on Feb. 28.
“If you’re serious, show me,” said Potter.
Ashlar Hall was built in 1897, according to the Shelby County Assessor’s office. The stone building served as the home of real estate developer Robert Brinkley Snowden before it was converted for commercial use in the 1960s.
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.
Potter said his goal is to find a viable owner that can ensure the building’s survival.
“I’m dead serious about getting this done and getting it done right,” said Potter. “The city wants it, the neighborhood wants it, and this court demands it.”