Park Place Sold To Housing Authority

By  | November 30, 2011 | Filed under: News

SHEFFIELD – The Sheffield Housing Authority Monday, closed on its purchase agreement with Park Place. It was a rather quiet real estate transaction. There was little or no fanfare from those in power at The Sheffield Municipal Building, considering how important this business deal was to The City.

Park Place was not just a collection of 104 upscale apartment residences in The City Center, it was also the central offices of a home grown empire. Since 1993, 500 North Montgomery Avenue was headquarters of the many business interests of Bob Love, a self-made millionaire. He passed away suddenly in 2009 and left his estate unsettled, due to the lack of a succession plan. Mr. Love’s death could have been the beginning of a catastrophic unraveling of everything he had built, except for one person. Verna Brennan had been with him from the beginning in the mid-1970’s, and was there alongside him as he passed away. Ms. Brennan, along with Mr. Love’s comptroller Walter Andrews, deftly navigated the dissolution of his companies.

The job was gargantuan. Ms. Brennan, who became company president after Mr. Love’s death, had promised her boss that she would steward the breakup of his companies for as long as it took. She negotiated with lawyers for Mr. Love’s business partners and his family for the distribution of assets. The process has taken almost a year and a half, and Ms. Brennan allows that with the sale of Park Place, she is ready for a break. “I’m on my way to Europe in February for a cruise on The Rhine,” she laughed. “It’s been a tough year and a half, and with the sale of Park Place closed, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Verna Brennan

Park Place was the largest single asset left to be sold. It consists of two entire city blocks of buildings containing apartments, meeting places and corporate offices. Mr. Love had poured over $10 million into the project, but with lean times in Sheffield, and a downtown that is mostly devoid of businesses, it was not going to be an easy sell. Ms. Brennan and Company started looking for buyers within just a few weeks of Bob Love’s death.  They received offers from several suitors, but Ms. Brennan was not encouraged with the developers’ plans for the complex. “These companies wanted to convert the building into an assisted living facility. Once it was up and running, they were going to flip it”, she said. “The problem was, given the amount of retrofitting that would be required to meet standards, the numbers didn’t work out.” If the new owners couldn’t make a successful transition to assisted living, it was possible that Park Place would close. If that happened, Sheffield’s Downtown, already on life-support would have dried up and blown away.

About six months ago, as Ms. Brennan was having lunch, Sheffield Housing Authority’s new Executive Director, Shirley Whitten,  came over to her table. “She told me that they might be interested in Park Place,” she said. “And I looked at her, and she said it will not be Section 8. There is a separate branch that we have that owns and operates some apartment complexes and individual houses”. This news was coming at the perfect time, because it was proving harder than expected to find a suitable buyer because of the economy and the occupancy rate at the facility. “And they came, talked to us … Looked at our numbers.” She explained part of the problem, “Our census is down so bad, that Park Place cannot support itself. This was because Bob had died, the economy bottomed out. People that move in here rely on the sale of their homes and the income from their investments; both, which hit the bottom. That, and the unknown factor of what was going to happen to Park Place since Mr. Love died. So we had a triple whammy hit us.”

Ms. Brennan continued, “Park Place was Bob’s gift to Sheffield. It was never really profitable.” But that was OK with Bob Love, to whom Sheffield owes a great debt. “Because his other business entities made enough money and Park Place served as our corporate headquarters, and he could not stand to see these empty buildings sit here.”

The main structure at 500 N. Montgomery Avenue began it’s life as a hotel after the Sheffield Hotel, across the street, burned in the 1930’s. It continued until the early 1960s when a group of doctors bought it and made a hospital out of it. They later sold the property to Humana, who bought it for the number of beds allocated to Colbert County by The State. Humana went on to build a new hospital in Muscle Shoals, now Shoals Hospital, and promptly closed the facility in downtown Sheffield when their new building was finished. The now-empty property languished for about 12 years until 1992 when Bob Love acquired it at auction. “We would walk past here … Our old office building was on Third and Montgomery and we had outgrown it. And Mr. Love, I made him walk up to the water tower once a day with me, and he’d stop and look in. And he’d say, ‘Take a damn fool to buy that Verna Mae.’ So after he bought it I said, ‘you’re the damn fool’.” Ms. Brennan smiled, “But we bought it and did not know what to do with it.”

But the team of Love and Brennan soon figured out what to do with the property and set about the construction and the purchase of the old Sheffield Recreation Center on Nashville Avenue on the far side of the block. “He bought the whole city block for $225 thousand. It was under construction for about a year,” she went on, ” and in ’93 we opened it. And we had people waiting in line.” Over the years, as the main building filled up, Mr. Love renovated the Recreation Center building into another cluster of apartments. They then turned their attention across the street to the old Valley Federal Savings Bank building. “That building came empty, and Bob had to sit (in his office) and stare out the window at it, because of the location of his office.” He finally purchased it from Bank Independent for another $225 thousand. “Bob put another $8 million into these buildings”, she said. Ms. Brennan added that Mr. Love put in between $10 million and $12 million into all of the facilities on both blocks, which also included the old Hester Chevrolet Building on the corner of 6th Street and Montgomery. Ms. Brennan mused that most people in Sheffield simply do not realize all that Bob Love did for his city.

After a series of talks with The Housing Authority, an offer to purchase was made and accepted. “It was a million eight.”

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2 Responses to Park Place Sold To Housing Authority

  1. Robbie November 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Bob was a very nice man, I worked for Mary between 1978-1982. How is she I know they were very close, I also hated to hear about Misty, I know they both had to have had a hard time over her death. I moved away when I stopped working w/her my husband joined the USAF. You did a wonderful thing keeping up w/what he wanted. Sounds like your still a true friend.

  2. Rene Henderson December 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I remember when Bob started his grocery store chain. My mother always bought her groceries from his store on Woodward Avenue. He was so good to her. Years later, I worked for James Leigh who was the CPA for Love & Associates franchises. Our offices were in the Love Building on Montgomery Avenue and were connected to his offices on the top floor. He was always a gentleman to me and I appreciate what he did for community and for those who were down-on-their-luck. I know he quietly did many charitable things for others. I never knew Verna Mae but think I would have liked her too. God bless her for being a friend to Bob and lovingly taking care of his businesses.

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