published Thursday, January 16th, 2014

No deal on Tubman as potential buyer can't raise money; Chattanooga still interested in site

  • photo
    Vacant apartments are seen at the former Harriet Tubman housing project on Roanoke Avenue.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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Chattanooga housing officials have turned down a third requested extension of time for a Chicago-based group to purchase the former Harriet Tubman housing development, and one city official said the city still is interested in the site.

"We would not be here if there was not an interest, a desire to see what we perceive to be a higher use for that property," City Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said Wednesday at a special called meeting of the Chattanooga Housing Authority board.

Wednesday was the day the Lakewood Realty Group was scheduled to close on the purchase of 440-unit Harriet Tubman housing development, but it didn't have the $2.8 million financing. The CHA board voted unanimously not to give Lakewood another extension for the 36.5 acre public housing site.

"Lakewood wasn't able to meet the full extent of the contract the way we initially agreed to it, and that gave us opportunity to go back and rethink," said Eddie Holmes, CHA board chairman.

Four of the seven board members -- Holmes, James Levine, Jim Sattler and Wilbert Roberts -- participated in person or by conference call in the special meeting. All voted to cut ties with Lakewood if it didn't have the money at closing Wednesday as planned.

Board members Edna Varner, Betty Robinson and Jim Steffes were absent. Hakeem and City Councilman Moses attended along with Molly Cooper from Mayor Andy Berke's office.

Hakeem said the city would work to "cobble together a deal that would be satisfactory to both the city and the housing authority."

It is the sentiment of the commission to make better use of the property and to improve the community, he said.

CHA officials said they had to give Lakewood until midnight Wednesday to get the money before the housing agency can discuss the purchase of Tubman with another potential buyer.

The original closing date was scheduled on or before Dec. 20. Lakewood requested an extension to Wednesday, which CHA approved. On Tuesday the company asked for another extension, but CHA Executive director Betsy McCright rejected that and the Wednesday closing remained unchanged.

Lakewood was suppose to close on the deal at 3 p.m. Wednesday with $2.8 million cash. But at 10 a.m. Wednesday Lakewood officials called CHA and said they couldn't come up with the money.

Instead Lakewood offered to put up $500,000 if CHA could give it until Jan. 22. to wire the money. If Lakewood didn't come through, it said CHA could keep the $500,000 plus the $50,000 that it gave for earnest money back in October.

Housing authority staff recommended accepting the deal, but the board overruled them.

Holmes said CHA wants to sell the site soon because it is expensive to maintain and CHA has had problems with people coming into the property.

The city of Chattanooga offered to buy the site for $1 million and use it for industry to bring more jobs into the area, but withdrew the offer when it realized CHA had to go with the highest bid. CHA officials said HUD required a minimum price of $2.4 million.

CHA accepted Lakewood's plan to use the property for Section 8, market rate and elderly housing.

Katherine Currin, executive director of the Glass House Collective, a nearby neighborhood revitalization organization, said she is concerned about Lakewood.

"We don't have information about the company. We've yet to see any of their previous work to validate what they do," she said.

She believes the the city should act as a partner to ensure a positive use of the Tubman property.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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