Canceled land purchase costs East Ridge $10,000

Canceled land purchase costs East Ridge $10,000

February 26th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press East Ridge no longer plans to spend $350,000 to purchase the former site of the Hungry Fisherman restaurant and the 19-acre tract of land it is located on at 6715 Ringgold Road as vandals recently stole wiring, copper and lighting from the main building.

An already cash-strapped East Ridge is out about $10,000 on a property purchase that never happened.

Last December, the City Council unanimously voted to spend $340,000 for 19 acres of foreclosed property on Ringgold Road. Once home to the Hungry Fisherman restaurant, the site was surrounded by a dilapidated fence, overgrown shrubbery and glass from the restaurant's shattered windows.

The city had grand plans, despite the mess. Outdoor Boy Scout functions, weddings and business conventions all came up as potential moneymakers.

But councilmen voted 4-1 Thursday night to cancel the purchase after City Manager Eddie Phillips said thieves took electrical wiring and vandalized much of the property, estimating that repairs would nearly double the cost.

Before the vote to cancel, City Attorney John Anderson billed East Ridge for $4,869.44 - without detailed line items - for negotiating a price for the property with owner Community Trust and Banking Co.

Then officials spent $4,940 doing what Phillips called "due diligence" - environmental tests, structural inspections and utility repairs.

Everything on the Ringgold Road property stopped when officials noticed vandalism, stolen wiring, gutted plumbing and torn-up walls, according to Phillips, who said electrical repairs alone would cost $221,560.

But Thursday night, the project still had one believer - Mayor Brent Lambert.

When Councilman Jim Bethune moved to "terminate" the purchase, Lambert said he'd rather make a "much, much lower offer ... one that would take into account at least $221,000."

"Then, of course, we'd have to fix it up," Councilman Darwin Branam shot back. "It's not usable the way it is right now. We don't know exactly how much it would cost to do that."

Vice Mayor Larry Sewell said "if [the bank] wants to get rid of it, they ought to just give it to us."

Branam later called the property "a big white elephant," and another councilman, Denny Manning, scrunched up his face and said "you can't catch any fish in the pond" next to the property.

In the end, everyone except Lambert voted to terminate the deal.

Last December, Manning and Sewell - along with Lambert and then-Mayor Mike Steele - voted to purchase the land before due diligence tests.