Families lose thousands …

…after Chattanooga wedding venue goes bust

May 6th, 2016 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region Read Time: 3 mins.
Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.
This story was updated to correct two references to an individual named in the story.

Have an upcoming wedding scheduled at the now-defunct Lindsay Street Hall? Call Tara Plumlee at The Catering Companies at 423-894-0115.

Lindsay Street Hall, a high-profile event and wedding venue in downtown Chattanooga, was sold to a new owner this week at a foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps because the former owner, who filed for bankruptcy in October, wasn’t paying the mortgage — which means about 10 couples will be out thousands of dollars they already paid for weddings.

“If I hadn’t been there [at the auction], the building would have been padlocked,” said Chattanooga businesswoman Tara Plumlee, who was the sole bidder for 901 Lindsay St., a former First Congregational Church that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plumlee, who owns three other local event venues and a catering company, will rebrand the building as 901 Lindsay.

She said she spent Tuesday contacting couples who had prepaid for weddings with Kenneth E. Crisp Sr., the owner of the now-defunct Lindsay Street Hall.

“Some of them are out all of their money,” she said, adding that some wedding parties are out $20,000.

Plumlee said she can’t do the upcoming weddings free of charge, but she’s trying to work out something.

“I’ve been working with every bride, every momma of the bride,” she said. “We’ve been on the phone with everybody. We’ve cried together. There are parents that are hiding it from their children. We’ve been instructed not to tell certain brides.”

“This has been an incredible scandal, and I’m trying to do my darnedest,” Plumlee said. “That’s why I showed up on the courthouse steps — because I just wanted to do the right thing.”

‘He assured us there weren’t any issues’

The Times Free Press contacted several couples who had prepaid for upcoming weddings at Lindsay Street Hall, but they declined to comment on advice of their attorneys or because they wanted to focus on their upcoming nuptials.

Crisp’s bankruptcy court filings show that in October eight couples prepaid an average of $3,500 for upcoming weddings. But Plumlee said that some couples paid more since then, as much as $20,000.

“May is a big wedding month,” she said. “Those people have already paid in full.”

One man, who had prepaid for a wedding but didn’t want to be named, said the venue’s manager assured him not to worry about the May 3 foreclosure auction, because the manager promised that he’d retain control of the venue.

“He assured us there weren’t any issues,” the groom-to-be said. “We had already paid them a little more than $5,000.”

Crisp didn’t return phone calls left at the telephone number he put on court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy court in the historic courthouse on 11th Street in downtown Chattanooga.

His son, Ken E. Crisp Jr., said in an email that his father suffered a massive stroke in April. The son said he was an employee of Lindsay Street Hall until about a year ago, when he was relieved of his duties, and that he’s not aware of what’s gone on since he left.

Nonprofit group forecloses on building

The father and son bought the 4,000-square-foot, one-story building in 2006 for $300,000, according to Times Free Press archives.

Three nonprofit organizations that support downtown’s renaissance, the Lyndhurst Foundation, RiverCity Co. and Cornerstones, paid for the renovation of the stained-glass windows in 2008 at the building — one of Chattanooga’s oldest African-American churches — which had sat vacant at the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Lindsay Street for more than a decade.

Plumlee paid $665,000 for the building at Tuesday’s foreclosure auction on the steps of the Hamilton County Courthouse, said attorney Harry R. Cash, who auctioned 901 Lindsay St. on behalf of the lender, the nonprofit Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution, which is part of the nonprofit organization, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE).

“That was an amount that the lender was willing to let the property go for,” Cash said.

CNE made the loan in 2008, according to a legal notice. CNE’s President and CEO Martina Guilfoil didn’t return a call Thursday seeking comment.

Plumlee said Crisp had approached her about a year ago to see if she wanted to buy the business, and he agreed to sell it to her. Her company managed the business for about three weeks in the fall after signing a purchase agreement, but Crisp didn’t go through with the sale, she said, and filed for bankruptcy in October instead.

“[I lost my] earnest money, appraisal money, title work money, I was out thousands of dollars,” Plumlee said.

The good news for Plumlee is that because she bought the building — and not the whole business — at auction, “I got it for substantially less than our original sales agreement,” she said.

Plumlee owns The Catering Companies LLC, which includes A Silverware Affair catering and the event halls The Mill, The Car Barn and Bell Mill Mansion. She’s happy to add 901 Lindsay St. to the list.

“It’s such a great spot. We didn’t want Chattanooga to lose it, so we just did everything we could to save it,” Plumlee said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.