Well this has been a hot topic today, and I was glad when I received a call from Mr. Mick Barnes himself, expressing his concerns with the legion post, and their current situation.
In an effort to make sure all angles of this story are reported, I was all ears as Mr. Barnes offered insight on the Legion, and the Hamblen House from his perspective.
"This whole situation is a terrible loss to veterans," said Barnes, who is, himself, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran.
Barnes explained that there is a lot to this story that we wouldn't be able to necessarily cover in a brief phone conversation, so we agreed to get together as soon as possible to hash through some more of the details.
One thing we now know, is that there was an organization tasked with raising money for the legion remodel project, called Forward March. This group apparently pulled out unexpectedly somewhere around late 2016, leaving the project about 20% complete according to Barnes' estimation, after not being able to offer the funding that the project needed on a property that was in real trouble.
The legion was then tasked with the obligation of raising the rest of the remaining funds.
The Hamblen Club decided to seek a loan from Regions Bank. Barnes explained that the bank told them that they did not usually do these type of loans to "start-ups, especially restaurants," however the business plan they provided to Regions seemed so solid, that the bank was willing to make an exception.
This accounts for some of the money that put them behind, which they fully expected to recoup.
Also, in the previous article, I mentioned that the Legion decided to bring up two lawsuits against parties that were formerly involved in the renovations.
It seems that the contractor mentioned was Forrest Construction. The other was a "Restaurant GM" who was planning to file a federal suit out of Miami. I am still looking into the exact reasons for the suits. Barnes said that he did not personally direct the board to pursue these lawsuits, and that he did not have the pull in appointing Rick Rumrell as their attorney (who is by all accounts an excellent lawyer), but rather it was a group decision by the board, that he says was the right move at the time, given the situation, because they wanted the issue handled in a local court, so that there would be more transparency to the public, and more opportunity for local witnesses to be able to make it in to the courtroom, and get their side of the story on record.
This was a decision they made in an effort to protect themselves from going under at the time.
Barnes is not happy about the end result, and where we are today, and said the goal was always to help fellow Veterans in the best way he could here in St. Augustine.
While mismanagement may have come in to play at some point, he did seem very genuine in his expression to me this morning, that he and his team were committed to doing something positive for local Vets.
I am in the process of talking to a lot of people close to this situation in an effort to get ALL THE FACTS out to you. It is not my intention to tell a one-sided story to anyone, or to take sides on the matter. This is an important story that needs to be covered adequately and I am committed to doing just that.
Please check back as this story is very much developing, and I hope to have new information to you all as soon as possible.