Metro Archives building ownership could face dispute if fairgrounds relocation plan passes

Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 10:05pm
Jude Ferrara/SouthComm

The Metropolitan Nashville Archives building, postal address 3801 Green Hills Village Dr., Metro parcel ID 11710013400, is now a bland testament to municipal governments’ penchant for no-nonsense architectural utility rendered in khaki-colored cement. And while it’s an invaluable resource for journalists, academics and fans of local history, it is of little value as a piece of real estate — for now.

Should Mayor Karl Dean’s administration succeed in its plan to move the contents of the archives to Hickory Hollow Mall’s former JC Penney space, however, the drab building could suddenly surge in value.

As soon as the end of this month, the plan to move the archives could come up for a Metro Council vote, Dean told the media in December. Mounting public pressure derailed his earlier plan to relocate the city’s expo center — along with the archives — to Hickory Hollow.

If a vote goes through, Metro government would be required, per the terms of a 1966 land grant with William Criswell and William Weaver Jr., who may or may not have been acting as representatives of Intereal Co., a subsidiary of the National Life Insurance Co. (the confusion will be explained later), to revert the property to its true owners. And those owners will not see it as a bland, khaki-colored municipal building but rather a .87-acre property adjacent to The Mall at Green Hills and valued at $1.3 million in 2009. The building is potentially worth millions more over the course of a long-term high-end retail lease.

So far, so good for the owners of the building. Except that it’s unclear who those owners are.

The 1966 grant does not actually name Criswell and Weaver as the grantors. It does name a trustee, Harlan Dodson, who prepared and signed it. The document therefore could indicate that Dodson was acting as a trustee for Intereal, again a subsidiary of National Life and owner of what was then Green Hills Shopping Center. It could be argued that recently infamous insurance super-giant AIG, which owns local insurance regular-giant AGLA, which acquired National Life in the 1980s, is the rightful revertee. Then again, AGLA, in the form of subsidiary American General Realty, sold the Green Hills mall property, and possibly land grants associated with that property, to Chicago-based Davis Street Land Co. in 2001. The most current deed for the property even states that AIG and Davis Street, “among unknown others,” have already “indicated a claim to a reversionary interest in the property.”

The City Paper contacted James Weaver (no relation to William), who as lobbyist for both Hickory Hollow owners CBL Properties and Davis Street — each a potential beneficiary if the archives moves — as well as chairman of the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners (which was instrumental in the plan to move the expo center, the main part of the package deal that also included the archives), is in a uniquely central position to all of this.

James Weaver declined to comment, as did his client, Davis Street principal Robert Perlmutter.

“The deed was in the name of Harlan Dodson Sr. as trustee. The fact is it was all a long time ago, back in the ’60s when this all occurred, so there’s very little documentation, so anybody whose name passed through there may make a claim of some sort,” said Michael Kaplan, an attorney for the William Weaver estate. “We think eventually it will be shown that those two [Criswell and Weaver] were the ones who had the reversionary interest. And the families are all in agreement. But I don’t know, and typically those things will come out of the woodwork if Metro decides to get rid of that property.”

Asked via email whether Metro government is aware of any possible ownership dispute, Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling responded, “We are aware of the situation and in contact with the parties claiming reversionary rights.” He later added that he was only aware, however, of the Weaver-Criswell families’ claims.

Tom White, attorney for the Green Hills Limited Partnership (the Weaver and Criswell families), first explained that as of right now, Metro is technically in breach of the 1966 agreement, which required that the building — formerly the Green Hills Branch of the Metro Public Library system — be reverted when it was no longer being used as a branch library. It lost that role when the new  library on Benham Avenue opened in 2000. But, he said, the families have been allowing it to be used for the archives until Metro is able to relocate them.

White also said that without a doubt, the reversionary rights to the building belong solely to his clients.

“There is nobody who can make a claim to that property out there, other than the original grantors, who are the Weaver and Criswell families,” he said.

But according to three quitclaim deeds granting ownership to Weaver’s children, grandchildren and the Nashville Public Library Foundation, several outside parties have indicated that they might own the rights. Paragraph five of the deeds reads, in part, “a final determination of who owns the reversionary interest will likely require extensive litigation that will take a significant amount of time and expense.”

Those deeds were prepared on behalf of the Weaver Marital Trust; Weaver’s widow, Elizabeth Proctor; and Weaver’s daughter, Elizabeth Weaver Lane.

Kaplan said Metro government, as the party responsible for making the reversion, would almost certainly be involved in such litigation, should it happen. Riebeling wrote that he doesn’t believe any potential litigation will “unduly complicate Metro’s plans.”

Mike Safley, deputy director of the Metro Department of Law, said in an email that even in the event of litigation, Metro would likely not be too deeply involved.

“If and when the Metropolitan government abandons the Green Hills Library by no longer usi ng it for a library purpose, the Metropolitan government will not be responsible for determining who owns the revisionary interest,” Safley wrote.

3 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 1/3/11 at 1:41

This is great. Dean just keeps stepping in it. The Fairgrounds needs to stay where it is. This should tell Dean that his buddy Weaver is a man to watch. It looks like Weaver should get out of this before some kind of charges are brought. Can he work for both parties at the same time?

By: MAmom on 1/3/11 at 10:41

"Should Mayor Karl Dean’s administration succeed in its plan to move the contents of the archives to Hickory Hollow Mall’s former JC Penney space, however, the drab building could suddenly surge in value."

Wasn't the Hickory Hollow leases bill was "bifricated" (sp?) and then withdrawn?
How much will it cost to lease and renovate the JCP space for the archives?
And why?

Very glad to see the article clarify that James Weaver is NO relation to William Weaver.

By: tomba1 on 1/7/11 at 1:40

Judging from how much renovation they did to the Green Hills property before the Library moved much of the archive material there, my guess is that the Library would spend more in gas money to relocate the archives than it would to prepare the Hickory Hollow location to "store" them, not to protect and display but "store".

To some of our elected leaders, these records are merely stacks of paper and "stuff" that can be boxed and shoved or tucked away in any old out-of-the-way place because nobody cares or is interested. Oh they may talk otherwise but their actions tell the real story. These treasures aren't worthy enough to warrant attention.

There is the pulse of a million beating hearts living in these archives. Let us hope our elected leaders don't let them stop beating. If only these hearts could vote....