VOL. 133 | NO. 27 | Tuesday, February 6, 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 Downtown Memphis Commission and a coalition of surrounding business owners including The Rendezvous’ John Vergos, and The Peabody hotel’s Marty Belz – and William Sessions, representing the building’s owners, MNR Hospitality.
Potter said he would not sign the official documents 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 DMC announced it was taking legal action against MNR to declare the site a public nuisance.
The site of the former Benchmark Hotel in Downtown Memphis was declared a public nuisance by the Memphis and Shelby County Environmental Court. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
MNR purchased the vacant Benchmark Hotel in December 2012, more than a year after the 124-room hotel closed. In 2016, the company 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 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.
“This is the first Marriott where Marriott has allowed anybody to deviate from their standard cookie-cutter plans,” Session said. “This is a unique opportunity, and we run the risk of losing it.”
In his closings arguments, Schaffzin countered that calling the property an active construction site defies logic
“At some point enough has got to be enough,” he said.
Potter concluded that a lot of the grievances could have been resolved with better communication without going to court, but said he would personally mediate an agreement between the two parties.
“So from this point on, we’re going to have communication,” Potter said. “People are going to know what’s going on. And we’re going to draft this court order in a manner in which Marriott will see that, yes there is an issue here, but that Mr. Patel (developer B. Patel) is working to resolve the issue.”