A year ago Pettis-Brown looked like the savior of the long-closed Empire Theater. He planned to restore the theater into an entertainment venue for comedians, live bands and other performers. But early this year he looked like an inept developer who tried to do more than he was capable of.
The project was estimated to cost $908,000, of which the city pledged a $228,000 forgivable loan. That was a combination of $150,000 from the city's Capital Arts Fund and $78,000 from the Department of Community Development and Planning. Pettis-Brown was responsible for raising the rest of the money, but he never did.
The city has begun foreclosure proceedings against Pettis-Brown for the $184,000 in grants and loans the former professional basketball player spent. The money mostly went for pre-development work before the city asked for proof of private financing -- and before Pettis-Brown disappeared. But the city has been unable to serve him with legal notices, so the going has been slow, according to city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.
"We are very interested in redeveloping the property," Olberding says. "We are pursuing all avenues that we can to bring this particular chapter to a close and hopefully begin a new one to redevelop the property."
BLIGHT OF THE WEEK is an effort to highlight the problem of abandoned buildings -- and who's responsible for them.