By Maria Saporta
After nearly a decade of legal battles between various parties, a settlement has been reached that will lead to the closing of the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, according to several sources close to the transaction.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall apparently signed a consent decree on Wednesday, but different parties did not want to discuss the settlement on the record until they had seen the signed agreement
But in several interviews Wednesday evening, people close to the transaction confirmed that settlements between the various parties have been reached.
News of an imminent settlement was first reported Wednesday afternoon by Atlanta Progressive News, a website that has been sympathetic to the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, which has been managing the Peachtree-Pine shelter, considered to be the largest homeless shelter in the Southeast.
For 10 to 15 years, the Peachtree-Pine shelter has been a thorn in the side of the downtown business community (Central Atlanta Progress), social service agencies and the City of Atlanta.
The various parties have been in litigation for nearly a decade with the Task Force alleging there was a conspiracy by the city and the downtown business community to cut off its funding, which ended up playing a role in the foreclosure of the building and the subsequent refusal by the Task Force to leave.
There also were several other thorny issues including unpaid water bills by the Task Force that resulted in threats by the city to cut off its water. Those bills were subsequently paid by the Task Force. There also were reported cases of tuberculosis in 2014, which raised concern in the community.
The settlement calls for the Task Force to be out of the Peachtree-Pine building by Aug. 28, even though the shelter will not close until months later. Various social service agencies will be able to access the building and serve the men who have been using the shelter.
Jack Hardin, an attorney with Rogers & Hardin and co-chair of the Regional Commission on Homelessness, said the United Way of Greater Atlanta and other philanthropic organizations have been preparing for the possible closing of the low-barrier homeless shelter.
While United Way was not a party to the various lawsuits, Hardin said they have been made aware of the settlement negotiations so they could be ready to serve the homeless.
“The Task Force will turn the building to the defendants on Aug. 28,” Hardin said. “Over the next several months, we will be sending in our case workers to determine who is there and what their needs are.”
Hardin estimated that the Peachtree-Pine building has been providing shelter to about 200 homeless men, and he expects the shelter to be closed by the end of the year.
“We are just thrilled to have access to the building so we can bring our portfolio of strategies to work,” Hardin said. “We are confident we will have the resources to meet those needs.”
Apparently the agreements between the various parties are quite complicated, involving multiple parties, liens, debts and ownership issues.
The Task Force will receive a lump sum, which APN reported was $9.7 million, but it will have to pay off the liens, legal fees and debt and other charges. It is not known how much will be left over once all those bills have been paid.
Eventually, it is expected that Central Atlanta Progress will own the Peachtree-Pine building, which it could keep or sell.
At one time, the City of Atlanta threatened eminent domain saying the building would be needed as a public safety center.
“That was the dumbest idea in the history of Atlanta,” said Manny Fialkow, who had bought the building once it had gone into foreclosure.
Apparently the agreement calls for Fialkow to give up any interest in the ownership of the building, turning it over to the Task Force for legal reasons.
But sources said the security instruments, notes, interest payments, principal and all other expenses will have to be paid to Fialkow in order for the next owner to gain clean title.
The Task Force, led by Anita and Jim Beatty has been in the building since 1997. But sources said the Beatys and other long-term members have resigned from the board. Anita Beaty did not respond to an email to talk about the settlement and her current relationship with the Task Force.
Hardin said the executive director today is Carl Hartrampf, and the board chair is Chuck Steffen, a Georgia State University professor.
United Way and the City of Atlanta announced earlier this year that they were committing $50 million toward a “HomeStretch” project to meet the needs of the homeless in Atlanta.
Part of those funds are available to address the closing of Peachtree-Pine. Hardin said it is possible a couple of smaller shelters – that could house 50 to 100 people – could be built in other locations. But the main goal is to find permanent shelter and provide supportive services for the homeless.
“We are all about ending homelessness,” Hardin said.
The legal settlement apparently restricts the Task Force from operating another shelter within a several-block radius of the Peachtree-Pine building. It is expected the reinvented Task Force will go back to being an advocacy organization rather than operate a homeless shelter.
Sources said they did not know what would eventually happen to the building, which was one of Atlanta’s oldest automobile dealerships. Preservationists have expressed interest in making sure the building at 477 Peachtree St. is not demolished.
When asked for a comment Wednesday night, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s spokeswoman Anne Torres said “the city will not be providing a comment at this time.”
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said it was premature to make a statement until he had seen Judge Schall’s signed settlement order.
The tug of war between the City of Atlanta and the Task Force dates back to the administration of Mayor Shirley Franklin.
When asked to comment about the prospective settlement, Franklin said: “Persistence is a virtue.”