Hopes for 'Roundabout Ritz' still alive

[Fri. 1:10 pm Feb. 9]-Reba buys more property; MDHA extends financing deadline

Country music star Reba McEntire has bought more real estate around the site of a proposed five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel to be developed by her company, Starstruck Entertainment Inc. And the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency has granted Starstruck another extension of time in preparing a financing package to qualify for tax incentives.

The developments seem to indicate that Starstruck's plans for the luxury development are still alive, despite continuing delays. If completed, the hotel project could be a key to revitalizing the area around the new Music Row Roundabout, which is scheduled to open March 10.

Music Square Properties LLC, a company managed by Starstruck Chief Executive Narvel Blackstock, McEntire's husband and manager, has spent $2.5 million since late October to buy several parcels abutting the site of the former Barbara Mandrell theater, at the point where Demonbreun and Division Streets converge on the new traffic circle. A Starstruck affiliate already owns that site.

Among the recent purchases is the site of the former Shoney's restaurant on Demonbreun. Music Square Properties paid Shoney's Inc. (SHN) $1.6 million for the property. In a deed of trust securing a $1.2 million loan from SunTrust Bank, McEntire's company acknowledges that it intends to demolish the buildings on the property.

Meanwhile, MDHA has extended until July the deadline for Starstruck to show that it has sufficient equity to build the hotel and thus to qualify for a $3.5 million tax inducement from Metro. A previous extension, granted in August, was to expire in January.

Starstruck originally announced its intentions in May 1999. Plans called for a 263-room hotel, with up to 30 condominiums on upper floors and a health club. The facility was scheduled to open in the summer of 2001.

Last year, after requesting the first extension from MDHA, Starstruck set spring 2003 as an opening date.

"It's not easy to do these big things, and we've worked on it quite hard now for a while," said Cliff Williamson, chief operating officer of Starstruck. "We are continually in meetings, and we have some important ones coming up the week after next." Williamson would not elaborate.

Williamson said while the new property acquisitions would offer better parking and beautification options for the hotel, Starstruck bought the adjoining land mainly because it became available.

"Buying property that's adjacent to property you already own always makes sense, no matter what you do," he said. "We could have done it without that piece of property, but if it's adjacent, and you can buy it, you buy it.