French Market Ousted?

Tenants at The Farragut Building get eviction notices from its new owner

Allen Tate has invested a small fortune into his new business, The French Market, in the Farragut Building on Gay Street. He says he spent about $30,000 on labor and $50,000 on materials to get the café, which opened a few months ago, up and running. The space, which had been vacant for 13 years, was a wreck, he says.

"I estimate it'll take three years to recoup our construction costs," Tate says. "We're still getting bills from electricians. There's still work to do on the outside. But we've been profitable since the beginning."

Fortunately for Tate, the café—which sells crepes and coffee—has been a success. Unfortunately, the Farragut Building was sold last month to a California company, which just sent him an eviction notice.

Tate is being evicted along with every other tenant in the building, except for the non-profit groups Community Shares and the Appalachian Community Fund, which share space on the 7th floor. The company, 5 Torrey Hills, wants to turn the building into an upscale apartment building.

A spokeswoman from 5 Torrey Hills could not be reached for comment. Glenn Bullock, the architect for the project, says there will be 71 "pretty high-scale apartments," including 55 two-bedroom and 16 one-bedroom. Although the owners plan to use financing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this does not mean it's going to be a low-income project, Bullock says.

"HUD has different levels of financing and this is not low-income financing. This is pretty high-end financing. They're going to spend a lot of money. It's not a cheap deal," he says.

The first floor of the building would be developed as commercial space, possibly a grocery store, Bullock says. The News Sentinel reported Trader Joe's was being courted for the project. "It would fit in nicely on the first floor, but we haven't approached anyone that I'm aware of," he says. "People are throwing out names, but that's not coming from the owner." It's unclear where shoppers would park for a such a large grocery store, or how feasible it would be to push loaded grocery carts along city streets.

Bullock says he wasn't aware The French Market was being evicted. "I didn't know anything about that one," he said. "We're just the architects. I hate to see it if it's true."

Much of the building is already vacant, but there are some long-term tenants. Those being evicted are supposed to be out early next year. The U.S. Department of Interior has rented space there for 30 years. So has Joe Ayres, who owns Cumberland Securities. "We would have preferred longer notice," Ayres says. "But we don't currently have a lease, so we have to leave."

Tate says he plans to fight the eviction. He has a five-year lease (starting from October), with options to lease for 10 more years.

"They're just trying to scare us out of the building. I believe they're going to be doing construction and don't want us in the way," Tate says.

Corrected: spelling of Joe Ayres' last name