VOL. 130 | NO. 8 | Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Executive Inn Demolition Long Time Coming
By Bill Dries
The old Executive Inn hotel on Airways Boulevard where Brooks Road dead ends is the latest problem vacant property to be demolished and touted by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. as another step in his administration’s anti-blight effort.
But the effort has been a series of halting steps through massive amounts of bureaucracy and property law often using different methods from property to property.
“The law professors can tell you, America is built on protecting property rights,” Wharton said. “In our nation of laws, the due process of law isn’t the prettiest thing that you would want to witness in terms of trying to correct these conditions.”
The process that led to a city government bulldozer ripping through and flattening the hotel’s restaurant Friday, Jan. 9, was the first use of a state law for a property on which more city and county property taxes and late fees were owed than the property was worth.
“There was state law that said you can’t really transfer these properties until their taxes are paid,” Wharton said. “What private person is going to buy something with $600,000 in taxes owed on it, knowing that they have to pay those off before they get it. We in government could not do it because we’d have to maintain it and pass it on to taxpayers.”
While nearly $600,000 in local taxes were owed on the property, the land is appraised at only $327,500 for tax purposes by the Shelby County Assessor’s office. The new state law allows the city and county to forgive those taxes in a roundabout way in which whoever buys the land at a coming auction gets a grant from the city and county to pay what is owed in the way of the back taxes and fees and then turns that money back over to the city and county.
General Sessions Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter issued the demolition order for the property at 3222 Airways Blvd. a week earlier.
The city is spending $240,000 for the demolition and related abatement. Previously the city had been using federal Community Development Block Grant funding. But last year federal officials told the city it could no longer use the block grants for demolition.
The process leading up to demolition took years in which business leaders on Brooks Road like Dick Sweebe, the CEO of Summitt Truck Group at Millbranch and Brooks roads, constantly complained about the impact of the derelict property on their businesses.
“It has been a long process but that makes it all the more sweet,” said Sweebe, who heads the coalition of business owners on Brooks Road. “I never thought I’d be to a demolition and feel better about tearing something down than building something.”
The hope is that the next step will be new construction on the site. That often proves to be another lengthy process.
Four years ago, Wharton took a seat in the cab of a bulldozer and formally began demolition of the Marina Cove apartments in Hickory Hill with the idea that once leveled, the landscape would soon become a new town center with a new Power Center Academy charter school as its anchor starting in the 2012-2013 school year.
“Anytime you have to come back and go through all that we’re going through to tear down something like this … we need to take a long look at whether we can sustain it or not,” Wharton said at the time.
Today, the site on Winchester Road has no buildings on it. Power Center Academy remains farther east on Winchester by New Direction Christian Church, the church that sponsors the charter school along with Gestalt Community Schools.
The city ultimately put up $700,000 to the absentee owners of Marina Cove in Atlanta for them to pay back taxes with and then walk away from it.
The plans for what was to come next came into contact almost immediately with the growing and lingering recession that shoved many other projects like it onto the back burner awaiting financing.
“Keep in mind, it is being maintained,” Wharton said of the Marina Cove site last week when asked about it. “They are getting their financing wrapped up. We’ve done our part on it.”
Wharton remembered eating at the Pete and Sam’s restaurant in the 1970s that was the restaurant part of the Executive Inn.
Sam Bomarito of the restaurant sold it in 1979, four years after it was built, for $1.2 million to Airways Enterprises Inc.
Airways Enterprises was the first in a series of seven owners of the property through 2010 who owned for shorter and shorter spans of time.
Property records in the Shelby County Assessor’s office show the property is owned by Nezlife Memphis LLC, which has an address in North Palm Beach, Fla., and owns no other properties in Memphis, according to a search of records.
Nezlife bought it in 2010 for $615,000 from Taj Investments Inc., an Illinois corporation with an address in Skokie, Ill.
Taj bought it in 2002 for $2.2 million from M&D Hospitality LLC, a Tennessee company.
M&D bought it from SKN Enterprises LLC, another Tennessee company, in 2000 for $2.3 million.