11 September 2010

Debbie Reynolds' Hollywood Items Facing Auction

Knoxville Biz

Belle Island centerpiece placed on the market

A portion of the stalled Belle Island Village project in Pigeon Forge has been listed for sale by a Knoxville real estate firm, but a proposed Hollywood museum at the center of the original plan is looking shaky.

Trey Miller and Brian Tapp of NAI Knoxville are listing a 15.5-acre portion of the project for $20 million. That portion of the site - which is owned by Regions Bank - includes an unfinished, steamboat-shaped building that was expected to house the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum and display the memorabilia collection of actress Debbie Reynolds.

Last year, the museum filed for bankruptcy protection, and on Friday museum President Todd Fisher - who also is Reynolds' son - indicated that they face a Wednesday deadline to come up with approximately $4 million to pay a creditor in the case under a plan filed with the bankruptcy court.

Otherwise, he said, they will agree to move forward with an auction process for the memorabilia. If that happens, Fisher said, his mother would have no interest in moving forward on the museum because the heart of the collection would be sold.

However, bankruptcy documents also indicate the plan referred to by Fisher is in dispute, and the creditor in the case has filed a different plan.

As for the broader Belle Island project, it also has a long and checkered history. Centered around an 18-acre island located between the Parkway and Teaster Lane, the idea was unveiled in 2003 and also was to include a NASCAR-themed attraction called the Darrell Waltrip Racing Experience.

After a portion of the construction was finished, a firm behind the development filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2009, and later that year a pair of banks foreclosed on different portions of the project.

Regions Bank took back the retail portion of the site - including the Hollywood museum building - and a bankruptcy document filed in March indicated that Regions had reached an agreement to sell the Pigeon Forge attraction to Tennessee Investment Partners LLC, which was owned by Matisse Capital LLC and Southern Venue Development. The latter firm and its president, Glen Bilbo, originally helped develop Belle Island.

On Friday, Bilbo said that deal anticipated state approval of a tax-exempt bond allocation. Last month, though, project backers were informed that the Department of Economic and Community Development had declined to approve that allocation, which was worth up to $49 million.

Bilbo said his group now is looking at alternative ways to finance the project.

"We still have our elements in place, and we're positive that we can put something together," he said. "But … it's obviously going to take a little time to restructure our plan without the recovery bonds."

Fisher - whose sister is actress Carrie Fisher - said Friday that both he and his mother called Gov. Phil Bredesen's office to inquire about why the project wasn't chosen for a tax-exempt bond allocation and were told that some commercial or industrial projects were deemed better for the state.

Fisher said he also asked for an explanation of what projects could be chosen that would generate more jobs, tax revenue and benefits for the state than the Belle Island Village project.

"I just asked for a simple explanation, name the projects that took precedence over Belle Island, and I have yet to get a response," he said.

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