In the March 25 court filing, inn owner William G. Gray said The Hammocks LLC, which does business as Richmond Hill Inn, had $7.9 million in total debts. The business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Gray bought the property from Albert and Marge Michel of Greensboro in 2005 for $10.4 million. The couple had purchased the ramshackle structure from the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County in the mid-1980s. The Michels pumped millions into the mansion, converting it into an upscale bed-and-breakfast. With its commanding view above the French Broad River and its fine dining, the Richmond Hill Inn became a destination for well-heeled tourists, brides looking for a stunning wedding backdrop, and foodies craving a four-star dining experience.
Gray fell behind on an owner-financed, $8.8 million deed of trust, and the Michels initiated foreclosure proceedings. According to a notice filed in Buncombe County District Court Oct. 29, 2008, Gray still owed $6.9 million. On March 16, three days before the blaze, another court notice announced that the property would be sold on the steps of the Buncombe County Courthouse to the highest bidder on April 16.
However, the day before the notice — Oct. 28, 2008—Gray had filed his own civil lawsuit against the Michels, alleging fraud. The Michels, Gray claimed, hadn’t disclosed that there’d been hundreds of leaks in the plumbing system for the mansion and guest cottages, even though the problems were discovered in 2006. The defendants denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, county officials are seeking $64,000 in unpaid property taxes for 2008, said Buncombe County Tax Director Gary Roberts.
Click here to go to the Xpress Files and read the bankruptcy documents, as well as documents regarding the foreclosure proceeding, the civil court proceeding and the inn's most recent fire-inspection records.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor
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