published Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Tennessee Multicultural chamber told to repay loan or face foreclosure

by Cliff Hightower
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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  • photo
    David Johnson, president of the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution.
    Photo by Jenna Walker.
    enlarge photo

The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce has 30 days to repay a $579,000 loan or face foreclosure on the property bought with the money.

The payment demand came last week from the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution, which made the loan in 2009 to help build a business development center in the 400 block of East M.L. King Boulevard. The Chamber is two or three months behind in payments, and the business center has not been built.

"The board of the Chattanooga CDFI met last week," said David Johnson, president of CCDFI and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise. "A decision was made to send a letter to the Multicultural Chamber."

Johnson said almost a month ago that CCDFI could foreclose because of "feeling uncomfortable" that the loan would not be repaid.

He would not divulge the contents of the letter, but two Chamber board members confirmed Wednesday the Multicultural Chamber received the letter.

"We will meet next week with our board and bring that letter to the board," board Chairman Walter Hitchcock said.

  • photo
    Sherrie Gilchrist is the executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Executive Committee member John Taylor Sr. said, "We did receive the letter and we will address that issue, as far as it relates to the land."

Taylor said the Chamber has spoken with interested developers inside and outside Chattanooga about the property. He hinted that the Chamber might be looking for a buyer.

Pointing out that the Chamber's primary goal is helping to grow minority businesses, Taylor said, "We have to stay true to our mission -- we are not a developer."

"This is a great opportunity for redevelopment. Whether it's led by us or someone else, let's make something positive happen on M.L. King Boulevard," he said.

Chamber Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist did not return calls for comment and was unavailable when a reporter went to the chamber office on Chestnut Street on Wednesday.

The Multicultural Chamber is being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over financing for the never-built Business Solutions Center.

The inquiries were spurred after a Times Free Press investigation showed inconsistencies with budget requests turned in to Chattanooga and Hamilton County. A later review by City Auditor Stan Sewell showed possible financial mismanagement, questionable land deals and exorbitant salaries and travel expenses.

HUD gave the Chamber grants totaling $545,000 in 2005 and 2006 to buy three properties on M.L. King Boulevard. The CCDFI loan was to pay for two adjoining properties.

  • photo
    The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce proposed this Business Solutions Center rendered here. Contributed photo

Altogether, the Chamber paid $1.2 million for five lots whose tax assessment was just more than $500,000. HUD has asked the Chamber to explain what happened to $238,400 from the grant. The FBI has inquired about the CCDFI loan.

Hitchcock and Taylor maintained Wednesday the Chamber still plans to develop the property

"We are working with inquiries [from] a couple of developers about redeveloping that land," Hitchcock said.

Taylor wouldn't give specifics or name names, saying he didn't want other potential investors to be deterred.

Board member Jerry Hanner Sr. said he isn't on the executive committee and had not seen the letter. He said Gilchrist has been in meetings recently working on a reorganization of the Chamber, but he expected her to brief the board at the meeting next week.

Taylor would not comment on the possibility of a Chamber reorganization, saying that the board chairman, Hitchcock, should address that issue. But he said the Chamber will go forward.

"I think going through this ordeal has strengthened the organization and given us a clear focus to zoom in and go forth with greater determination," he said.

Hitchcock could not be reached to discuss that issue Wednesday.

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Citizen49 said...

There should not be a problem repaying the loan. Just ask John "the money is where the money is" Taylor.

Other commenters want to complain only about the city giving money to the Chamber but these same people will not say a word about the Chamber's leadership. The same leadership that has been taking advantage of minorities while accumulating frequent flyer miles. It is terrible to take advantage of people, it is worse to give hope and then only give outrageous salaries to themselves. But I'm sure others will only blame the city government and the mayor. If there was responsible leadership at the Chamber, there would be no problem. But John "the money is where the money is" continues to be the spokesman for the chamber. Shirley doesn't return calls and is unavailable - is she on one of her trips and out of town? No mention about her stepping down.

August 11, 2011 at 6:21 a.m.
reverendD said...

Let's see, we have enough churches in the black community, enough so-call organizatons that have been usurping funds and authority (when someone blacks speaks up, they are called haters) only to do very little for "US"; look at the mission statements of the Urban League, Eastside Task Force, and others.Really, how effective are they? Who are they really helping??? If they were adhering to their mission statement, poverty, inequity in education, crime, etc would not be as rampant and dominating in "our" community. FACT: The Chamber presumably brought over $200 million loans for black businesses. Yet the unemployment rate here is over 20% for blacks!! FACT: The reason why they changed from the African -American Chamber of Commerce to the Multi-Cultural Chamber was for the sole reason of obtaining grants. Where are all the black businesses they presumably helped??? Fact: So the Multi-Cultural Chamber is looking for a developer?? They had one, Mr. Bobby Abramsom on board as a member at one time. Oh by the way, the black contractors who said they were looked over, the Chamber had/has one on board. Mr. Hanner. Not all blacks in Chattanooga have fallen for the mafia-style way of "sticking it to the community" and acquiescing the fact that right is right and wrong is wrong. GOD gives me time to repent and get it right. If I don't, HE steps in...John, Sherry, and the rest of you, get it right. In all fairness, we as a race have enough money coming thru our community to fund a small nation. Only a handful of blacks are our worst problem. I'm just saying...I could be wrong. But what if I'a right????? When good people regardless of race remain silent when wrong/evil is done, it only will simmer and then spew more and more.

August 11, 2011 at 4:48 p.m.
joetheplumber said...

I read recently where someone asked "how many cultures are involved in multi"? Good question. From the photos and actions it appears to be one. Shut it down and jail them. We (taxpayers) can't afford this.

August 13, 2011 at 9:31 a.m.
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