The sale of the historic Rogers Hotel in downtown Waxahachie is on hold following a lawsuit filed this week in Ellis County’s 40th District Court by the hotels former owner.
John (Larry) Burns, the majority owner of Waxahachie Heritage Partners, LLC, filed a civil suit Monday, July 26 contending Southwest Securities, which held the loan on the property, wrongfully and unlawfully foreclosed on the hotel in 2012.
Burns’ suit names multiple defendants with Southwest Securities, First Financial Bank of Waxahachie, as well as his former partners Dustin Autrey and James Howard.
Burns, Autrey and Howard, operating under Waxahachie Heritage Partners, LLC (WHP), purchased the hotel, located at 100 North College St. in downtown Waxahachie in July 2009. Having sat vacant prior to being purchased by WHP, the building reopened in September 2009 as a mixed-used retail/office facility.
In his suit, Burns is seeking to reclaim ownership of the hotel, as well as damages and attorney fees.
While the hotel still has a few business tenants operating in the building, most of the building’s retail and office space has been vacant since Southwest Securities foreclosed on the property more than a year ago.
When contacted, Burns declined comment on the suit.
Burns is being represented in the suit by attorney W.T. Skip Leake of Arlington, Texas.
The suit effectively halts, at least temporarily, the sale of the hotel, which was scheduled to close on Aug. 9.
Developers Jim Lake and Amanda Moreno Cross, who have purchased the five county-owned buildings on the downtown square, had a contract with Southwest Securities to buy the Rogers.
“It’s disappointing,” Lake said Friday regarding the lawsuit. “But we’re looking at this as just a bump in the road. The Rogers Hotel is a key element of our downtown development and we were hoping to be able to use it as the first step in of project.”
While the sale cannot proceed until the civil suit has been resolved, Lake said he and Cross are confident everything will work out, though it will take longer than initially planned.
Cross said the five buildings formerly owned by the county will require extensive structural and renovation work — which is estimated to take between nine and 18 months.
With the Rogers Hotel being close to turn-key ready for occupation, Lake said they already have prospective businesses interested in locating in the hotel.
“Had we been able to open next Friday, it really would have given us a jump start on our project because we could have been able to bring new businesses into the downtown corridor in a matter of weeks, not months,” Lake said.
Though disappointed, Lake and Cross said they are not deterred from their mission to help the city revitalize its historic downtown.
“The first time I visited downtown Waxahachie I absolutely fell in love with it,” Cross said. “I see the potential. I see what it could be.”
Comparing downtown Waxahachie to their other redevelopment projects — including the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff — Cross said what sets Waxahachie apart is that so many of the elements that make a project a success are already in place here.
“When we started the Bishop Arts District, there was no zoning, there was no parking and there was no pedestrian thoroughfares. We spent months working with the city to create zoning and parking and pedestrian corridors. Waxahachie’s downtown already has all that in place,” she said.
Once the buildings have been renovated, Cross said it is just a matter of bringing in the right businesses to fill those vacant spaces.
Lake shared the story of how they created the Bishop Arts District, literally one building at a time.
“When we started I believe we had three or four restaurants. As we started growing the district, it was interesting that all of the restaurant owners begged us not to add anymore restaurants because they thought it was going to take away business,” he said. “Today, we have more than 30 restaurants in the district and they are all filled to capacity on a daily basis. It’s all about finding the right mix.”
Both Lake and Cross said they are committed to Waxahachie for the long run.
“We aren’t developers who purchase buildings, fix them up and flip them,” Lake said. “Once we purchase property, we keep it — meaning we have a vested interest in making sure the businesses that lease those properties are successful,” he added.
In the coming weeks, Lake and Cross said they plan on holding meetings with organizations connected with downtown Waxahachie, as well as the community, to discuss future plans.
“To us, this is a joint project with the community,” Cross said. “This isn’t just our project, it’s a community project and we want to make sure that we’re all rowing in the same direction to accomplish the same goals. Yes, we want to be successful, but we can only do that if downtown is successful and the city of Waxahachie is successful as well. We want to help create a downtown that locals want to visit on a daily basis and our visitors want to come back to on a frequent basis.”
Those working with the city’s economic development commission have pointed out that a revitalized downtown corridor would yield multiple benefits for the city. In addition to creating new jobs and expanding the city’s sales tax base, it would also increase tourism revenue — as well as help raise residential property values and residential redevelopment in the downtown corridor.
Other districts developed by Lake and Cross have experienced an explosion in residential home values as young professionals seeking walking access to entertainment/retail hubs have purchased and redevelop existing housing stock in and near the districts.
Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.