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Hartselle still waiting on Guthrie's
Restaurant was to open by summer; city losing money as long as $70,000 land deal not sealed

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Captain D's has opened on U.S. 31 here and workers are constructing Walgreens.

But there is no building permit for Guthrie's chicken restaurant, which was to open by summer.

In addition to new tax dollars the city expected, Hartselle is losing money on $70,000 the council spent to make the deal happen.

"They have not bought the property, but every time I talk with them they say they are ready to move forward," Mayor Dwight Tankersley said.

Council plays role

Unlike some of the other new business locations, the Guthrie's project involved a significant role by the council in helping Ty Cooper and his mother, Martha Cooper, get the property they wanted for the franchise.

Here's what happened.

In late 2006, the Coopers approached the council about acquiring 0.4 acres of city-owned property south of The Citizens Bank on U.S. 31.

The city bought the land more than 20 years ago with a Land, Water and Conservation grant. The grant funds restricted how Hartselle could use the property.

Before selling it to the Coopers, the council had to purchase property of equal value.

On Dec. 7, 2006, the council voted to spend $70,000 to buy land on Groover Road near the soccer complex. The property will be a parking lot.

Plans to sell property

To recoup these funds, the council authorized the mayor in January to sell the property on U.S. 31 for $70,000 to the Coopers. They already have a Guthrie's franchise and announced plans to open this summer.

So, here's the situation. The council has spent $70,000 with no guarantee that the Coopers will buy the land.

Council President Kenny Thompson said several people have expressed an interest in the land.

"If they don't get it pretty soon, we need to put it on the market," Thompson said. "I believe we will be able to sell the land."

The ordinance authorizing the sale does not prohibit the council from selling the property to another buyer.

Although the council vote to sell the land was unanimous, Councilman Bill Drake questioned the process, especially since the city didn't advertise for bids.

City Attorney Larry Madison said the city didn't have to accept bids as long as the council sold the property for the appraised value and declared that the land had no public use.

Tankersley said he hasn't had any communications with the Coopers since May, when they promised to move forward.

The Daily tried unsuccessfully to reach the Coopers.

Guthrie's opened its first restaurant in Haleyville in 1965, according to the company's Web site.

The chain, which serves chicken fingers, fries, slaw and bread, recently opened restaurants in Decatur, Athens and Moulton.

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