Building owner blames restaurant owner for collapse of Cheeburger Cheeburger

Building owner blames restaurant owner for collapse of Cheeburger Cheeburger

March 30th, 2017 by Paul Leach and Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Chattanooga Fire Department Captain Dean Rogers and other emergency personnel work the scene where the front of the Cheeburger Cheeburger building collapsed at the intersection of Aquarium Way and Market Street on Wednesday just before 2 p.m. in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Cheeburger Cheeburger collapse

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“I've been after them to fix it in every possible way. And they told me, 'We're not going to do anything.'”
George Walls

Cheeburger Cheeburger owner responds to this article here: Cheeburger Cheeburger's owner has message for owner of building

Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant's building collapsed Wednesday afternoon, spilling bricks and rubble onto Market Street in downtown Chattanooga.

Emergency responders didn't believe anyone was hurt, since Cheeburger Cheeburger's owner, Charlie Eich, had closed the restaurant Tuesday night as a precaution after a building inspector warned of structural problems a few days before, Chattanooga Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner said.

"It's a good thing he did," Garner said. "We're just glad — miraculously — nobody got hurt."

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Eich couldn't be reached for comment.

"Bad news friends. My baby needs more than a bandage. We've got contractors and engineers working on it," Eich said Wednesday via Cheeburger Cheeburger's Facebook page. "We made the difficult call to close yesterday and thank God we did. I came in this morning to all of these fallen bricks. I'm not sure how this will end, but I'm sure of one thing; for almost 20 years we've been a part of the riverfront area and we are eternally grateful for the friends that have come into our lives. It has been a gift to us. I hope we can continue serving you for many years to come."

The building's owners blamed the collapse on Eich, saying it was his obligation to fix the problem.

"It was the tenants' responsibility to fix the exterior walls, and they had been served with notice to do that. They were served on March 10," said George Walls, whose father, George W. Walls Jr., of Kimball, Tenn., owns the building.

"It's going to be in court," Walls said. "I've been after them to fix it in every possible way. And they told me, 'We're not going to do anything.'"

It won't be the first time that the Walls have tangled in court with a tenant.

K.K. Sidella, the owner of the now-defunct Genghis Grill that was next door to Cheeburger Cheeburger, successfully sued George W. Walls Jr., and won a judgment of $331,490, plus attorneys' fees, after Sidella argued that Walls had hurt his business by improperly towing vehicles of Genghis Grill's customers, employees and vendors starting in 2011 in breach of Genghis Grill's lease.

Walls didn't initially pay the amount, and Hamilton County Chancery Court was due to auction Wall's building on the courthouse steps on Oct. 26 of last year — but then Walls paid.

Cheeburger Cheeburger's owners heard noises while outside the restaurant prior to the collapse, went in to investigate and soon exited, catching the collapse on video, Garner said.

Police on Wednesday blocked off the northbound lanes of Market Street and the portion of Aquarium Way that runs along the building's south face. Officers taped off the area, citing concerns over the entire structure's stability. The Chattanooga Department of Transportation announced Market Street between First Street and Third Street also is closed. All downtown traffic will be detoured to Veterans Bridge and Highway 27.

Responders can't just leave the mess the way it is, though.

"We're basically trying to figure out a game plan," Garner said, citing the need to either shore up the building and make repairs or bring the rest of it down "for the safety of everyone involved."

Chattanooga Ghost Tours, which operates on the opposite side of the building from Cheeburger Cheeburger, won't be allowed back into the building for an unknown period of time because of safety concerns, said the business' owner, Amy Petulla.

For the time being, Ghost Tours will start on the other side of Aquarium Way, in front of Sitar Indian Cuisine.

"We're still operating," Petulla said. "It's inconvenient for us, but as far as our guests, it's not going to affect them at all."

That said, the building's collapse comes at a bad time for Ghost Tours, she said, since spring break is a busy time of year. And Chattanooga Ghost Tours is in the running to win a $25,000 prize this summer from Sam's Club and SCORE's American Small Business Championship.

"You have to do it by showing an increase in your business," Petulla said. "It really couldn't have come at a worse time for us."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.