published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Hutcheson family to get ownership of Rossville's Peerless Mill

The sprawling former Peerless Woolen Mills complex will go back to the Hutcheson family today
The sprawling former Peerless Woolen Mills complex will go back to the Hutcheson family today
Photo by John Rawlston.
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Ownership of Rossville's Peerless Mill is expected to revert today to the Hutchesons, the family that founded the Rossville mill in 1905.

The old, brick building -- once one of the world's largest woolen mills -- and its 27 acres were due to be auctioned off to the highest bidder today on the steps of the Walker County Courthouse in LaFayette, Ga., according to a recent legal notice filed by RDC's attorney Kevin Stine.

RDC officials declined to comment, and Stine didn't return a reporter's phone message left last week at his Atlanta office.

But Les Coffey, the man who bought the former mill in 2007, said he had agreed to let the Hutchesons foreclose.

"We're going to let them have it back ... the building and the property," he said.

COMPLICATED PLANS

Coffey's ownership of the property as Peerless Self Storage was fraught with drama and conflict with him pitted against the Hutchesons and the city of Rossville.

Peerless Self Storage filed for bankruptcy in 2008, at which time Coffey owed RDC almost $1.1 million.

Coffey sought to demolish the roughly 1 million-square-foot mill in February 2011. He planned to sell its maple flooring, copper piping and other salvageable material, and then turn the site into a scrap yard and waste transfer station.

The Hutchesons got an emergency injunction to stop the demolition. Coffey was arrested later that month and charged with making terrorist threats to the city of Rossville's sewer authority after Tennessee American Water cut off water service to the mill. Coffey retaliated by threatening to put a chunk of concrete in the sewer line, which he said he owned because it was part of the mill.

A federal judge sided with the city in March, 2011, ruling that Coffey had to relinquish his claim to the 24-inch sewer line underneath the mill.

Coffey still says that even after the property forecloses, he'll retain the water rights and rail right-of-ways. He claims that gives him the right to charge the city for sewer lines than run underneath the rail lines.

"They're going to either get off the land, or they're going to pay. And there's not going to be any negotiations," Coffey said. "We've got a right to enforce the leases, and we're going to kick them off of them. You've got a city government that destroyed [my] business."

When told of Coffey's plan to bill the city, Mayor Teddy Harris dismissed the notion.

"That's just bizarre," Harris said. "He must be having a little temper tantrum."

The mayor said the property, which has a rail link, proximity to Interstate 75 and underground fiber-optic lines, has great potential for development.

"I'd be glad to see the property taxes paid on it," Harris said.

Bobby McNabb, executive director of the city's downtown development authority, thinks the site has potential.

"It's always had potential. It's 27 acres of prime real estate," McNabb said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a townshipÂąs government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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