Two-alarm fire in abandoned high-rise
(FOX13 Memphis video)
JODY CALLAHAN and WAYNE RISHER, The Commercial Appeal
Less than two years after the city’s tallest building was declared a fire hazard, a blaze broke out in the upper reaches of the empty tower at 100 N. Main on Wednesday afternoon.
The two-alarm fire at the Downtown tower began about 4:33 p.m. and was brought under control by firefighters about 40 minutes later, Memphis Fire Department spokesman Wayne Cooke said. Investigators later determined that the fire was intentionally set, Cooke said. One firefighter was hospitalized with chest pains, Cooke added, but no vagrants or others were found inside the vacant building.
Firefighters climbed stairs to reach the 34th-floor blaze because the elevators were inoperable.
MFD officials cited the building’s owners in August 2015 for failure to maintain required fire and life safety systems and ordered the removal of debris that could impede firefighters in an emergency.
Since the building has no electricity, firefighters had to lug their hoses all the way to the 34th floor, Cooke said. They were able to access water from inside the building.
“It’s a challenge because it’s a high-rise building,” Cooke said. “There is concern about firefighter fatigue.”
Architect Joey Hagan, who is involved in planned renovations to the building, said the 34th floor once housed a law firm that left behind law books and files.
Once a jewel of Downtown, the 38-story tower has essentially been vacant since spring 2014.
In that 2015 report, fire officials cited problems including potentially flammable debris strewn on the floors of offices and corridors, nonworking fire alarms and jury-rigged electrical wiring. Police tactical units have used the building for training exercises that left spent bullet casings and targets scattered around the building.
Last fall, the primary lender served notice that the owner, IMH Memphis LLC, was in default on a $2.8 million mortgage, and a foreclosure sale was scheduled.
The sale has been postponed multiple times since then as the owners continued discussion with the lender. Attorney William P. Moss III, substitute trustee in the foreclosure action, said the next scheduled sale date is April 12.
Delays granted by the Environmental Court were provided to give IMH Memphis time to bring the 38-story office tower into compliance with fire codes.
About the time the building was drawing scrutiny from fire officials in 2015, the previous owner, One Hundred North Main LLC, led by Isaac Thomas, sold the building to IMH Memphis, represented by Eli Freiden.
Thomas and Freiden are Memphis-born businessmen with no track records of major redevelopment projects in the city. The building was vacated of tenants to begin a renovation, but the project was never put into gear.
Florida officials last year were trying to wrest control of a Tampa housing project from a company affiliated with Freiden and and John W. Bartle, an Indiana-based development consultant on the 100 N. Main project. Florida officials contend they violated the state insurance code.
Bartle and Freiden earlier worked in management roles in Memphis for Ridgecrest apartments, a government-subsidized housing complex in Frayser that entered bankruptcy reorganization. Bartle also was a key figure in Hilldale, a Memphis housing complex that defaulted on payments on tax-exempt bonds issued by a city housing board.
In 2014 the Memphis Police Department ranked Ridgecrest and Hilldale among the city’s top three federally subsidized housing complexes with the most offenses per unit.
A prominent address Downtown for companies after its 1965 completion, 100 N. Main was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 as an example of Mid-Century Modern architecture.
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Crews knock down fire on 34th floor of 100 North Main, FOX13 Memphis