A recently compiled loan compliance agreement by the city shows that Lee Comer, the previous owner of the Morehead Foundry development and current owner of Iron Hen Café, owes over $260,000 in payments for an economic parking lot loan for the foundry.
Lee Comer and her partner Fareed Khori opened Morehead Foundry off Spring Garden St. in Greensboro in November 2016 as a unique concept that combined multiple food businesses in one complex with a shared kitchen. The business launched after Comer and Khori, who passed away in November 2018, secured two separate loans from the city: One a forgiveable loan for $100,000 and the other a $275,000 economic development loan for the complex parking lot. The foundry closed in July 2018 as allegations of racism were brought up by past employees against Comer.
An old compliance report from July 11, 2018, found that as of July 2018, Comer-Khori LLC, the entity set up by Comer to redevelop the project, were current on payments for the parking lot loan which were paid on the first of every month. An updated report finds that since then, Comer has missed at least four months of loan payments.
The February 2019 report found that the $275,000 loan was “four months delinquent for payments in October, November, December and January and that the “last payment received” came in on Nov. 14 for a payment that was due on Sept. 1. The document also states that Comer’s company is “in default on the terms of the loan agreement.”
The loan was modified in 2017 to allow an interest-only payment of $577 per month but on Aug. 1, that amount ballooned to $2,961 per month. The remaining balance on the loan, including interest through Dec. 31, is $268,814, according to the compliance document.
Comer did not meet a Feb. 14 deadline to retire the debt. Carla Banks, the city’s communications and marketing director, told City Beat that the city provided a notice of delinquency indicating that the loan is in default. Under the loan agreement, the city has the option of recouping its losses by pursuing foreclosure. And Kathi Dubel, the city’s economic development and business support manager, has previously said that the city could take action based on the company’s performance review.
Banks said the matter has been referred to the city attorney. Calls and emails to the city attorney’s office were not returned for this story.
The document also found Comer to be in compliance with other terms of the loans including the minority and women participation contracts as well as the amount and retention of jobs.
A quarterly tax and wage report cited in the compliance review ending on Dec. 31, 2018 indicated that the company employed 30 full-time employees and 57 part-time employees despite closing most of its businesses in July.
A Facebook post on the Morehead Foundry page shows that Comer started a new business, Hen in a Hurry, an offshoot of her popular Iron Hen Café, in July 2018. The business aimed to be a prepared food delivery service and in a press release posted on the Facebook page, claimed to provide an extra 150-225 jobs. According to a catering employee for Fresh.Local.Good food group, the Hen in a Hurry business is still active.
Calls and emails to Comer for this story went unreturned.
Comer provided documentation to the city to show that she invested $3.5 million in the upfit of the property, exceeding the $3.2 million threshold required as a condition of the loan. The investment doesn’t include money spent on the purchase of the land and building.
The complex and the lot are currently owned by Burlington investor Shawn Cummings, who acquired the property in November 2017, as part of Lee Comer’s refinancing efforts. The loan however, is still owed by Comer as required by the loan agreement, according to Banks. The document also states that the city subordinated its deed of trust to the Allegacy Federal Credit Union deed of trust in the amount of approximately $2.9 million. Cummings could not be reached for this story.
Recently, for lease signs went up at the complex. In the 1920s the building was Piedmont Ice and Coal, it was Greensboro Iron Works in the 1950s, and a gas station in the 1960s. Now, after being vacant for seven months since Comer’s businesses closed, residents are left to wonder what venture may occupy the space next.