Zeitlin vs. May Town: The Strange Case of the TSU Land Gift



Part of the deed under discussion.
  • Part of the deed under discussion.
On Thursday, Jeffrey Zeitlin sued a bunch of Mays over May Town, the ill-fated plan to put a second downtown in a pasture down a two-lane road in an undeveloped bend in the river. Zeitlin was one of the original developers, and now he's claiming that the Mays damaged community goodwill toward him.

When I saw this come across my feedreader, I'll admit my initial thought was what I thought the last time one of the May Town partners sued Jack May: Duh. Just, fucking, duh. Yes, a liar who lies will lie, even to you. And the second you learned he was lying to the whole city, and you sat back and did nothing in case his lies would turn out okay for you? You became no better than he. I have zero sympathy.

Then I got to this part of the article:

According to the lawsuit, the Mays made an “unconditional promise” to gift certain land in Bells Bend to Tennessee State University — land that the partnership didn’t own. [emphasis mine]

Wow. This is a pretty big accusation. I read it and I thought "So the May family promised land to TSU they couldn't even give them? That's ballsy."

But is it true? Well ... kind of. Maybe. It depends.

Here's the deal. The parcel under discussion — the land that was supposed to be a gift to TSU — sits like a C-clamp at the bottom of Bells Bend with the back of the clamp running along the river from Old Hickory Boulevard north and hooking around toward where the proposed bridge was going to go in. The empty space in the middle where May Town was supposed to go is still owned by Bells Landing Partners, which included Zeitlin. For those of you who'd like to play along at home, the parcel number of the land TSU was supposed to get is 09000000300 and the Nashville property map is here.

Zeitlin is not lying when he says that 09000000300 isn't owned by Bells Landing Partners. It's true — it's not. It's owned by H.T.P.C. 2, whoever or whatever that is.

But does that mean that the Mays couldn't give that land to TSU? Ah, dear readers, that's where things get interesting. I couldn't find any information about H.T.P.C. 2 on the Internet. The only information the property map gives is an address where they're located — 4535 Harding Pike #309 and a contact, Lolita Hamilton.

Who else is located at 4535 Harding Pike in Suite #309? Bells Landing Partnership. (See 0900000020 to see that they're at the same address.)

Further proof that the Mays are somehow a part of H.T.P.C. 2? Take a look at the affiant signature on the deed in the photo on the right. That's a May with crappy handwriting.

So this is weird, right? It seems to me there are two possibilities. One is that Zeitlin knew all along that Bells Landing Partners didn't own the land but that some group the Mays were involved with did since those two groups — Bells Landing Partners and H.T.P.C. 2 — were operating out of the same office. Even though Bells Landing Partners didn't own the land, the Mays could indeed have given it to TSU, since the Mays were involved in H.T.P.C. 2. In this scenario, Zeitlin is only playing the "We couldn't even give TSU the land we promised them" card because he now believes he was wrong to ever trust that May would give the land to TSU, and he wasn't in a legal position — since he wasn't one of the people involved in H.T.P.C. 2 — to force the issue. In other words, he is a victim of trusting the Mays to give the land.

The other is that Zeitlin didn't know that H.T.P.C. 2 was tied to the Mays. He took their word for it that they controlled the land and then later found out that H.T.P.C. 2 did, and for some reason he didn't put two and two together that the Mays had ties to H.T.P.C. 2, even though it has the same address as Bells Landing Partners. In this scenario, he is a victim of the Mays obfuscating about which land in the Bend they controlled and how. This is a slightly stranger scenario because it means that not only was the whole May Town project throwing a lot of smoke-and-mirrors tricks at the city, it means that, within the project, the people involved were busy deceiving each other. To what end? I don't know.

The whole thing is strange. I still believe that May Town was a terrible idea (or a good idea in a terrible spot, really) and that Odin will see the innards of the Fenris wolf before TSU owns that land. But I'm not sure this was a huge con run by the Mays. Would the Mays have given that land to TSU? I don't think so. I mean, they haven't yet. But could they? To me, it looks like a maybe, leaning towards a yes.

Honestly, and I say this as no great fan of any of the people involved in this, it seems much more like how business is done every day in Nashville, in all kinds of industries — let's do what we want, make all kinds of promises, and let the lawyers sort it out later.

And now we've reached that "later."

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