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VOL. 129 | NO. 96 | Friday, May 16, 2014

Comic Convention Drops Ashlar Hall Plans

By Amos Maki

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The Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention says it no longer wants to be part of Ashlar Hall’s future under terms proposed by the building’s current owner.

Joe Thordarson, founder of the fantasy convention, said disagreements over how much Ashlar Hall’s current owner, Kenny Medlin, wanted to charge in rent led him to withdraw from the process.

The Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention says it no longer wants to be involved in a renovation of Ashlar Hall on Central Avenue.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“We just don’t want to be a part of that,” Thordarson said.

Thordarson had been working for months to create a plan for repairing the stately but decaying “castle” on Central Avenue and turning it into a center for the arts.

Thordarson said he had been trying to negotiate a deal with Medlin where Thordarson would make repairs to the property in return for rent of $1 per month to house the comic and fantasy center. But Medlin was asking for rent of around $9,000 per month, Thordarson said.

“I’ve been trying my best to work out an agreement with (Medlin), but we have very different views on how to operate the space and his proposed arrangement is untenable for us,” said Thordarson. “We were sincere about trying to make something happen.”

In an email to attorneys, Medlin said he did not believe the comic and fantasy convention would be able to reimburse him for funds he said he planned to spend on repairs.

“Gentlemen, I am frustrated beyond belief, and am reaching a point of investment in this property that I doubt the (comic and fantasy convention) can reimburse,” said Medlin.

However, Thordarson, a contractor, has stated for months that he and other volunteers in the contracting and building industries would donate the required repairs.

Thordarson said he is still searching for a location for his fantasy, art and comic center.

“The idea for a geek-themed art center featuring art classes, displays and monthly geek events has really caught fire and we are actively seeking a home for it,” said Thordarson.

Meanwhile, Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter began assessing fines to Medlin for the state of the property’s decaying pool. Potter has fined Medlin $50 a day for the last 30 days for the condition of the pool, which amounts to $1,500.

Medlin, an acquaintance of the property’s previous owner, Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, acquired the historic home from Hodges last year via a quitclaim deed. After racking up thousands of dollars in code violations, Hodges entered into an agreement with Environmental 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 and transferred the property to Medlin.

Medlin, who operates the nonprofit Urban Renaissance Initiative, has maintained he had no plans to make any money off of the property and has submitted multiple ideas for its reuse. His most recent idea involves turning Ashlar Hall into a facility for military veterans. Before that, Medlin suggested Ashlar Hall could become a home for terminally ill children.

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.

PROPERTY SALES 101 603 9,602
MORTGAGES 92 538 10,616
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,282 20,958
BANKRUPTCIES 51 408 6,108