Little help? – Decatur asked to join lawsuit

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt April 3, 2014
The Solarium at the historic Scottish Rite building in Oakhurst. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

The Solarium at the historic Scottish Rite building in Oakhurst. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt

A local attorney says the city of Decatur has a stake in a lawsuit concerning the ownership of the historic Scottish Rite property in Oakhurst.

So far, city commissioners, the city manager and the city attorney are not saying if they expect to become a party to the suit.

A reporter approached city officials after Mayor Jim Baskett’s State of the City Speech on March 25 asking if the city still retained any interest in the ownership of the property.

“Nope,” City Manager Peggy Merriss said. “None whatsoever. It’s a private party lawsuit that we are not a part of.”

The attorney for the plaintiff, Kyle Williams, says the city does have an interest in the future of Scottish Rite.

The Community Center of South Decatur in March of 2013 filed a lawsuit against Progressive Decatur, the owner of the building and a subsidiary of Progressive Redevelopment Inc. The trigger for the lawsuit had to do with a power bill. CCSD claims that it paid $30,000 electric bills that should’ve been sent to McGowan’s Oakhurst Pub, a restaurant that closed last month under mysterious circumstances.

The lawsuit came to light as a result of a reporter investigating why McGowan’s closed. One of the legal questions raised in the suit is about a provision in a lease between CCSD and Progressive Decatur. The provision stipulated that if Progressive Decatur tried to transfer or sell the building, Community Center of South Decatur would be able to execute its option to buy it.  The property went on the market in December.

A counter suit filed by Progressive Decatur against CCSD claims that the purchase option is unenforceable under state law.

Williams, who is also a candidate for Senate District 42, said that the development agreement the city signed with CCSD and Progressive Redevelopment in 2000 gives the city the ability to intervene in the lawsuit.

“It is the position of CCSD that the development agreement between the city and the development partners of The Old Scottish Rite Hospital property, including its current owner and landlord Progressive Decatur, requires as an explicit condition that the Solarium portion of the property would be the permanent home of, and owned by, CCSD for its preservation for the community,” Williams said. ” … CCSD and I have made requests to the city to take action under the development agreement to ensure its satisfaction that the Solarium portion of the property remains the permanent home of and ultimately owned by CCSD for its preservation for the community.”

Good luck getting the city commissioners to talk about it.

When a reporter asked Baskett about the lawsuit after the State of the City Speech, the mayor said, “I haven’t been keeping up with it.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Nobody has kept me apprised lately.”

City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham told a reporter that city attorney Bryan Downs, “Is advising us about what our roles may or may not be.”

Downs said he could not discuss the matter with a reporter.

Commissioner Patti Garrett said it would be up to the city attorney to give commissioners a recommendation about whether the city should intervene in the lawsuit. When asked if she was concerned about the future of the Scottish Rite property, Garrett said, “I want that property to be used well.”

“It has been a benefit to have that available as a community space,” she said.

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Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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