VOL. 133 | NO. 25 | Friday, February 2, 2018
Former Benchmark Hotel Declared Public Nuisance
By Patrick Lantrip
The site of the former Benchmark Hotel in Downtown Memphis has been declared a public nuisance by the Memphis and Shelby County Environmental Court.
The “tough” decision by Judge Larry Potter was made Thursday, Feb. 1 after several hours of legal wrangling by attorneys Danny Schaffzin, representing the DMC and a coalition of surrounding business owners including John Vergos and Marty Belz, and William Sessions, representing the building’s owners, MNR Hospitality.
However, Potter said that he would not sign the official documents that night to give the two parties time to craft an agreed-upon court order that includes specific plans for the project to move forward with construction – a process that Potter vowed to personally oversee.
The decision comes a day after the Downtown Memphis Commission announced they were taking legal action against MNR to declare the site a public nuisance.
MNR purchased the vacant Benchmark Hotel in December 2012, more than a year after the 124-room hotel closed. In 2016, they began a partial demolition the nearly 60-year-old building that saw three of its exterior walls removed.
However, the project has shown little visible progress since that initial effort, which caused the DMC and several high-profile businesses in the area, including The Peabody Hotel and Memphis Redbirds, to seek legal action against MNR.
Sessions argued that the site was not in violation of local public nuisance laws since it was in fact an active construction site.
In December, MNR filed a $600,100 building permit application to renovate the 103,000-square-foot structure. That application came three months after signage went up along the hotel’s exterior stating the property would be redeveloped as a Fairfield Inn & Suites with a scheduled opening in 2019.
Sessions also argued that if a public nuisance order was issued it would cause MNR to lose its franchise agreement with Marriott, which would only further stall the project he said was “90 percent” approved by Marriott.
Potter concluded that a lot of the grievances could have been resolved without going to court with better communication, but said he would personally mediate an agreement between the two parties.