Reporter

Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 I-Team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

Metro Nashville is $3.6 billion in debt, so the News 4 I-Team wanted to know why the city wants to buy a $12 million fixer-upper.

Nestled among the buildings downtown is a historic structure from the mid 1920's called the Morris Memorial Building. It’s on Charlotte Avenue near the Music City Central bus station.

Morris Memorial Building

Metro is negotiating with its owners, the National Baptist Convention. The proposed purchase was a surprise to some Metro Councilmembers.

"I don't know anything about it, frankly," said Russ Pulley, a Metro Councilmember.

Metro had the building appraised in November 2017. It was valued at $11.6 million. The appraiser noted it is in poor condition, and that "asbestos removal may be an issue."

"What do we need it for, what are we going to use it for? All those are questions I have, and where are we going to get the money to do all this?” Pulley said.

It's in Councilmember Freddie O'Connell's district.

"If it comes to council, we would probably have exactly that kind of question for finance. OK, exactly what kind of impact would this have on our long-term debt?" O’Connell told the News 4 I-Team.

So why is the Mayor's Office pursuing the building?

A spokesman for the Mayor's Office, Thomas Mulgrew, said in an e-mailed statement that the property has historic significance to the African American community and that “the property is too special to Nashville to leave its fate to the private market to decide.”

In 2016, the National Baptist Convention said it was talking to developers who wanted to convert the building into a hotel, adding ten stories. The deal fell apart.

The Morris Memorial Building also happens to be adjacent to a small parcel of land involved in a controversial proposed land swap.

In November, the parks board called on Brian Kelsey, the mayor's chief strategy officer, to explain the city’s interest in the Morris building.

"We believe it could be a strong asset if we are able to obtain the parking lot next door and build a park that could complement the building there," Kelsey told the parks board.

The parking lot is owned by developer Tony Giarrantana. The Briley administration wants to convert his parking lot to a park, and give Giarrantana a park on Church Street that is frequented by the homeless in exchange. 

The Briley administration has not said how much the city would be willing to pay for the Morris building.

“That's all I'm really comfortable saying at this time about it," Kelsey told the parks board in November.

Nor is the Briley administration saying what they want to use it for.

“While the final use of the property is still to be determined, preservation is and will be our number one priority,” Mulgrew wrote in an email to the News 4 I-Team.

The News 4 I-Team reached out to the building's owner, the National Baptist Convention, but our calls were not returned.

The proposed purchase is far from being a done deal; it would require the approval of Metro Council.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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