Former councilwoman Murray faces criticism in building fire - WSMV News 4

Former councilwoman Murray faces criticism in building fire

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Some community leaders are pointing a finger at a former councilwoman after they say her organization's neglect allowed an historic old fire hall to nearly burn to the ground Thursday night with a homeless man inside.

But Pam Murray, who has faced plenty of criticism before, says blaming her for the fire is inaccurate and unfair.

Murray said her organization, North Edgefield Organized Neighbors, or NEON, already started renovations on the inside of the 1930s-era fire hall after the group received the building as a gift from Wal-Mart about five years ago to house a non-profit arts facility.

The building, near the intersection of Gallatin Road and Douglas Avenue, is listed a local landmark by the city's historic commission, but it has been abandoned and empty since 1989.

"This will be the one project that will unify the East Nashville community," Murray said.

For the last several years, the fire hall has belonged to NEON, and in 2006 the group promised to turn the building into a place for families to learn about the arts.

Murray, vice president of NEON, has been instrumental in getting the group funding and promoting the project.

"We're going to do a community choir, we are going to do art, we are going to do dance, music, we're going to have tutoring," Murray said.

Murray disputed claims that it has taken the group a long time to start the renovations.

"We don't think it's taken time. It just takes time to do the type of projects we are trying to do," she said.

Authorities believe a homeless man staying inside may have started the fire that nearly destroyed the building. Murray said she never say any indication someone was living inside.

"We come over every week and clean the building and make sure the building is secured, but no, I didn't know anybody was in here last night," she said.

But a look inside the building before the fire shows it's clear not much had been cleaned up inside, and city leaders say everyone knew someone was living there. Clothing, food and alcohol was visible inside months before the fire occurred.

"There has been a homeless guy staying in that building since last summer," said community leader Sam McCullough.

McCullough says, bottom line, the building sat vacant for too long, and unless someone with a solid plan comes in and makes changes more incidents will happen.

"As long as it's been sitting there, I think something should have been done," he said.

Murray says the plan was to have the building ready for programs by June of next year. Now, she says they just need volunteers to stay on track.

McCullough says he spoke with Wal-Mart officials and they plan to try and take back the property.

As for the homeless man injured in the fire, he is still recovering in the hospital.

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