Has anyone besides me wondered why the receiver has released so little information about the hotel developer that has bid $9.5 million for the August Wilson Center? The receivership is a public court proceeding; the receiver is an officer of the court; the center is a charitable asset built with tens of millions of public, foundation and individual grants and donations; and the state attorney general is an integral participant in the drama with a duty to safeguard the public interest. Yet the bona fides or even the identity of the developer (other than 980 Liberty Partners and its local front man) remains a mystery. The court has been asked to bless this bidder on blind faith.
The explanation for this anonymity is that even the developer cannot honestly believe that its project is feasible. The hurdles to building a hotel atop the center are many and collectively insurmountable. First, the bid itself is outrageously high for a site that is worth less for reuse than an empty lot. Second, arguably valid restrictive covenants will doom attempts to secure a title commitment and financing. Third, engineering challenges, even if not fatal, will add hugely to the cost of the project. Fourth, serious traffic control and parking issues will preclude zoning approval. And, finally, the determined opposition of the city, county, Urban Redevelopment Authority, attorney general, foundations, African-American community and substantial elements of the broader community reflect a realization that the hotel plan will not preserve the mission of the August Wilson Center.
In bankruptcy terms, quite familiar to the receiver, the hotel bid is simply a stalking horse, intended to encourage higher bids from others. No one is taking the bait. When the hotel bidder finally and inevitably withdraws, its anonymity will be preserved. For the public good, that will hopefully happen soon.
In January, the writer, a lawyer, made an unsuccessful request to serve as conservator in the August Wilson Center matter on a voluntary basis.