Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Local artist can help you find your passion - Charlotte Observer

On September 26 at 7 p.m., local artist Gina Strumpf will be giving a painting demonstration at the Mint Museum on Randolph.

Strumpf, 55, a Charlotte native, is a talented and well-known artist. Skilled in both watercolor and oil, her work includes landscapes, still life and cityscapes. A well-seasoned traveler, Strumpf finds inspiration in the cosmopolitan cities she has visited, including New York, London, Florence and Paris.Although she has a varied scope of work, she is particularly known for her rainy day paintings â€" each featuring a red umbrella within the scene.Strumpf found her love of painting when she was a child and developed it through high school, leading to the offer of two full art scholarships. Originally, she wanted to pursue a career as a fashion illustrator â€" but instead found herself in the fashion world as a model. She worked for about 15 years as a print and runway model. She then had a family and became a successful real estate agent, specializing in relocations. She enjoyed real estate and was a top agent in Charlotte for many years when she found herself again pulled toward art.In the time following 9/11, Strumpf was reminded that “life is precious” and felt a desire to pursue her love of painting. She started by taking a watercolor class offered by a friend. Other classes followed. She says she found that, “art was the balance of my life and helped me get back to peace.” “It’s my happy spot,” said Strumpf. Eventually, she became a full-time artist.Her September 26 event will include discussion of her travels, her artwork and a demonstration of her painting technique. The event is offered through the Guild of Charlotte Artists, and is free and open to the public.Strumpf works as a resident artist for Cunard Cruises â€" which include the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth. This past summer, she spent 15 days aboard the QE, starting in England and ending in Russia. There, she taught classes during the day while the ship was at sea, and she enjoyed the local sights when the ship was at port. She has also taught classes all over the country. Teaching enables her to help bring out a love of painting in others. She’s received positive feedback from those in her classes who express their appreciation for their newfound passion. She tells her students, “It’s never too late to be what you’re born to be,” and feels “blessed that I could be someone who can take what I’ve done and touch so many people”.Strumpf’s artistic talent has provided opportunities to travel the world. During the summer, she spent a lot of time in France, where she was able to barter her paintings for lodging for herself and her husband. Her work is represented in 10 galleries, spanning from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta. Locally, she is represented by Red Sky Gallery. Strumpf is available for commission work, workshops and demonstrations.

Woman, reported missing, hit and killed on I-85 - Charlotte Observer

A 76-year-old woman who had been reported missing Tuesday evening was struck and killed by trucks while walking in southbound Interstate 85 early Wednesday morning, police say.

The woman, who family members said had been starting to show signs of dementia, had wandered about 4 1/2 miles from her northwest Charlotte home. She was identified as Shirley Pharr.

The incident forced authorities to close the southbound side of I-85 overnight. All lanes were reopened about 6 a.m.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police had issued a missing-person report Tuesday evening for Pharr, saying she had wandered away from her home about 4 p.m. She lived in the 3300 block of Dawnshire Drive, off Beatties Ford Road north of I-85.

Family members said they thought she might be walking somewhere in the area along Beatties Ford Road, LaSalle Street, or Brookshire Boulevard.

But somehow, Pharr had wandered several miles southwest of her home. Shortly after midnight, the N.C. Highway Patrol says, two separate tractor-trailers struck a woman on I-85 near the Freedom Drive interchange.

The drivers told troopers they couldn’t avoid striking the woman. Troopers also say two motorists told them they had seen a woman walking in the middle of southbound I-85 and had turned around, hoping to come back and help. By the time they got back to the scene, troopers say, it was too late.

I-85 southbound closed after missing woman hit on interstate - WBTV

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

Just before 6 a.m. all lanes of I-85 southbound near Freedom Drive reopened after two tractor trailers hit a woman on the interstate.

Police say the victim is 76-year-old Shirley Pharr and she had dementia.

WBTV first reported Shirley Pharr missing at WBTV News at 11:00 Tuesday night. Her family said she'd been missing for about a day.  

Pharr was last seen leaving her home on Dawnshire Avenue at around 4:00 p.m. Tuesday. Police say she checked herself in to a hospital then left.

She was later spotted by a driver walking northbound in the middle of the southbound lane before she was struck by the tractor trailers.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Missing woman killed while walking up freeway - WBTV

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A missing persons case comes to a tragic end as the victim is killed while walking up I-85 just before midnight Tuesday.

Shirley Pharr had checked herself into a hospital with early stages of dementia, when officials said she simply disappeared.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police put the word out of the missing 76 year old, notifying family members, neighbors and the media.

She was spotted by a driver walking in the center lane of I-85 facing oncoming traffic in the late evening hours on Tuesday.  The driver tried to swing around to help, but it was simply too late.

The State Highway Patrol said Pharr was hit by two semi trucks traveling southbound.  The drivers told officials Pharr appeared out of nowhere.  They tried to swerve out of the way, but there was just no time.

Pharr died on the scene.

Troopers said they believe she became disoriented, and didn't know where she was.

Police shut down I-85 at Freedom Drive, diverting traffic onto surface streets, while investigators worked to clear the scene.

Copyright 2012 - WBTV.  All Rights Reserved.

Blake Hotel at center of investors' dispute; faced complaints about conditions ... - Charlotte Observer

The complaints by California delegates about poor conditions at Charlotte’s Blake Hotel during the Democratic National Convention aren’t the only dispute surrounding the 39-year-old landmark, once the state’s largest hotel.

The Blake’s current and previous owners are locked in a two-year fight over the South McDowell Street hotel, which at one point was losing $4 million a year, a review of court filings shows.

The dispute involves some of New York’s most prolific and powerful real estate moguls â€" including an owner of the Willis Tower in Chicago and two brothers accused decades ago of participating in a “routine of terror” involving tenants in a residential hotel.

Two years ago, the Blake’s investors met in New York to talk about selling the property.

Shortly after, one owner sued his ex-associates, saying they wrongly excluded him when they sold the property for $24 million, which he thinks is too low.

Moreover, this investor, Charles Dayan, claims in court papers that the group that bought the hotel hid its identity from him, refusing to turn over documents or appear in court as ordered by the judge. The group that bought the hotel includes two of his former partners in the Blake, he says in court papers.

Those former associates say in court filings they had the right to sell the property. They say Dayan “may now regret his decision” to sell the hotel but made the choice “freely and with eyes wide open.”

“It’s sour grapes,” said David Satnick, the New York-based attorney representing the hotel owners, two brothers who are members of a group called Carolina Hospitality Group 2010 LLC. He says neither the group nor its members were hiding anything and that Dayan is “having sellers’ remorse.”

A ‘private tiff’

“These are well-heeled developers that are having their private tiff,” Satnick said.

The infighting made it difficult to operate and improve the hotel, according to documents and interviews.

It also may have contributed to problems guests found earlier this month. California delegates staying at the hotel complained of scalding water, mold, cockroaches and broken elevators, drawing media attention as one of the few missteps that occurred while Charlotte hosted the DNC.

Calls by the Observer to the hotel’s general manager have not been returned, and a man who identified himself as the secretary for one of the hotel’s New York-based owners and operators said: “There is no comment from New York. There are ongoing issues we can’t talk about.”

Satnick, the owners’ attorney, described the new owners, brothers Jay and Stuart Podolsky, as “first class,” saying they are involved in the Blake for “the long haul” and believe the hotel is going to be “one of the top tier” in Charlotte.

The hotel languished while the owners fought in court, he said, but his clients “really broke their backs to whip that place into shape.”

“It was only when we got it away from those other people that we turned the hotel around and made it operable,” he said.

Once city’s largest hotel

Built as a Sheraton Center in 1973, the hotel had 310 rooms, 10,500 square feet of convention and banquet space, and an auditorium and restaurant, making it the largest hotel built at one time in Charlotte.

HBE Corp., best known for developing hospitals, bought the Sheraton three years later for $7.5 million, updating and expanding the restaurant, named The Marker.

By 1984, the Sheraton had added a second tower, eventually expanding to 613 rooms, and became the largest hotel in the state. That same year, HBE changed the hotel’s name to Adam’s Mark, HBE’s line of upscale hotels.

During the next two decades, the Adam’s Mark became a popular spot for African-American professionals, among others. In its heyday, the cozy and laid-back nightclub, CJ’s, drew a well-dressed over-30 crowd. Promoters threw parties in the Adam’s Mark ballrooms on weekends.

The Adam’s Mark was Charlotte’s biggest hotel and ballroom until 2003, when the sleek Westin Charlotte opened roughly four blocks away.

When HBE put the hotel on the market that same year, some experts thought it could sell for as high as $90 million, according to media reports.

Instead, it struggled to attract buyers.

In summer 2005, an investor group led by New York real estate tycoon Joseph Chetrit bought the property, which included the neighboring Cameron Brown Building, an office midrise, for $47 million.

That December, the new owners announced plans to turn one of the Adam’s Mark’s two towers into a boutique hotel and rename it the Blake. Rooms, they said, would be geared toward “a hip, professional clientele.”

Multiple owners

Within four years of buying the Blake, the owners wanted to end their relationship, court records show.

As often occurs when investors buy commercial real estate, the hotel’s ownership was made up of multiple layers of holding companies. The property’s primary owners and operators, as identified in court records, included some of New York’s most prolific real estate investors.

Among them: Joseph Chetrit and his brother Jacob, part of a Moroccan family that made its money in textiles before buying trophy properties such as the Willis Tower in Chicago (formerly the Sears Tower) and the iconic Chelsea Hotel in New York. A holding company controlled by the Chetrits owned about a third of the Charlotte property. Attempts to reach the Chetrits were unsuccessful.

Charles Dayan, principal of Bonjour Charlotte, made the purchase with the Chetrits and owned a third of the holdings. Described in court records as a real estate investor with billions of dollars in holdings, Dayan’s Bon Jour Group is one of the largest brand-licensing firms and created the Faded Glory clothing brand sold at Wal-Mart. Dayan’s attorney declined comment, saying she couldn’t reach her client.

The remaining equity stake was held by JS Charlotte, a holding company whose members were brothers Jay and Stuart Podolsky, according to court papers. The Podolskys also own Amsterdam Hospitality, which operates eight hotels, including the Blake.

Chetrit and Dayan brought in JS Charlotte in 2006 as a co-owner of the Blake so it could help with financing and hotel operations, court filings say.

Satnick, the Podolskys’ attorney, told the Observer that prior to the Blake’s sale in 2010 the Podolskys “did not have any equity stake in the Blake â€" not in their personal capacities, no...They didn’t personally own an interest in the hotel.”

More than 25 years ago, Jay and Stuart Podolsky, along with their father, Zenek, were among a group of landlords who pleaded guilty in New York to charges including grand larceny and coercion.

The Manhattan District Attorney said the men had engaged in a “routine of terror” to drive tenants out of a single-room-occupancy hotel, according to newspaper reports. The Podolskys and another landlord moved in thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes, who would then rob tenants, start floods and fires, and do drug and sex deals in the hallway, those news accounts say.

A judge sentenced the landlords to give up three buildings to a nonprofit that helps the homeless. Stuart and Jay Podolsky were ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

Satnick said the brothers pleaded guilty in 1986 to shield their father from possible prison time.

“They were literally babes in the wood. They had no direct involvement. The father was running the hotel,” Satnick said. He described the father as “an older man” from “another time.”

More recently, the brothers have been active in New York charities, including donating hotel rooms and money to various causes, according to websites and a 2009 press release from their company.

A deteriorating relationship

Renovations at the Charlotte hotel began in 2006, according to Mecklenburg County permit data.

Plans at one point included turning the second tower into condominiums, but economic declines and the glut of new condo supply in the Charlotte market killed them, according to a 2010 appraisal done by Jones Lang LaSalle and included in court papers.

Jay Podolsky also says in court filings that Dayan and Chetrit stopped making their share of capital contributions. Podolsky said between $6 million and $8 million was needed to renovate the second tower, but that “I simply did not want to invest any more money in the Hotel only to be stonewalled by other members.”

By 2010, relations between Dayan and Joseph Chetrit had deteriorated, and Jay Podolsky felt Dayan’s behavior had become “increasingly uncooperative,” court records say.

“Bonjour’s stonewalling has already made it difficult for JS to operate the Hotel,” Podolsky says in an affidavit.

“...Members were at an impasse and the situation was becoming increasingly hostile,” Podolsky said. “We agreed to meet in an attempt to salvage the venture... The Hotel was hemorrhaging millions of dollars and we sought to stop the bleeding immediately.”

On June 24, 2010, Dayan, Jay Podolsky and another man met at Joseph Chetrit’s New York office, where they discussed selling the hotel, court records say.

Dayan says in court filings the group set a price floor of $24 million and he expected to be consulted if there was a suitor for the property. Podolsky and Chetrit say they agreed any one of the parties could sell the property for a minimum of $24 million.

Two months later, Dayan learned there was a buyer for roughly that price, court documents show. The buyer, Carolina Hospitality, is owned by Jay and Stuart Podolsky, according to court documents and Satnick, the attorney.

Dayan claims in his lawsuit no one would tell him who the buyer was. He also considered the price “suboptimal,” referencing an April 2008 appraisal he says estimated the hotel’s “as is” market value at $44.3 million, and a value upon market stabilization in 2012 as $77.8 million.

‘May regret decision’

Jay Podolsky says in court documents that Dayan “may now regret his decision...” but knew what he was doing.

Dayan asked the court to stop the sale, which ultimately proceeded. The sale closed in December 2010, according to Satnick and court records, shortly before the Democratic Party named Charlotte as host for its 2012 convention.

Renovations began in earnest soon afterward, according to Mecklenburg County permit data. The new owners applied for $1.65 million worth of construction permits beginning in March 2011, records show.

Satnick, meanwhile, said his client told him the hotel has resolved all of the delegates’ concerns, some of which, he said, may have been overblown.

The California Democratic Party couldn’t be reached for comment.

Scott Dick, a DNC delegate from Carmel Valley, said he hasn’t heard that issues have been resolved. He disagreed that complainers may have overspoken.

“That’s a lie, and it’s a damn lie,” said Dick, who on his weekly radio show provided a 10-minute account of what went wrong at the Charlotte hotel. His room, which cost $310 a night plus tax, included a clogged sink and fixtures coming off the walls, and an outside landing that looked as though it hadn’t been vacuumed in days, he said.

Satnick said the brothers worked hard to get the hotel ready for the DNC.

“In an ideal world, would (the Podolskys) have liked to have had more time (for hotel renovations)? Yes,” Satnick said. “But this isn’t an ideal world. You have to open with what you have.”

Staff researchers Maria David and Marion Paynter and staff reporter Gavin Off and David Perlmutt contributed.

Complaints About Tax Assessor Add Up - FOX Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC - It's tax time for Mecklenburg County property owners.

The good news - what you pay should be slightly lower since commissioners cut taxes. The bad news - some homeowners may be waiting on the postman to deliver the bills.

"We always pay our taxes," said South Charlotte resident Brenda Rorie. "That's what good citizens do."

Rorie owns property in Union and Mecklenburg counties.

"My Union County, the bills came on time and they of course have been paid."

But the tax bill on Rorie's South Charlotte home has yet to arrive, even though the Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor's office insists they went out September 1st.

"People have until January of 2013 to get those bills paid," said County Public Information Office Danny Diehl.

Rorie already feels intimidated as she appeals the 2011 revaluation on another property.

"That leaves me very uncertain," said Rorie. "Last year I paid a tax bill that I didn't feel like I owed. Am I going to do that again this year without knowing?"

"It's pretty screwed up I think," said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.

He adds unsent tax bills to a long list of grievances filed against Tax Assessor Garrett Alexander.

North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis has even gotten involved.

"Yeah, here's the letter," said James.

Tillis expressed concerns to the Board of Commissioners about the Assessor's management.

"Apparently," wrote Tillis, "the Assessor completely relied on the Internet to provide instructions to  elderly and disabled property owners, which may have put these individuals at a systematic disadvantage..." since most of these homeowners get information in other ways.

Tillis also wrote that certain, "...appeal notices...contained conflicting deadline dates for property owners to submit formal appeals."

So as commissioners wait for an outside consultant to look into problems within the Assessor's office, Rorie hopes the next set of tax bills don't overwhelm.

"I feel for those people who don't have any sense of the (home) value. They feel like they know something, but they don't know how to explain it."

The revaluation process review conducted by an outside firm should be completed by November. Tillis may recommend changes to the law that governs how counties collect taxes.

Newton better running? - Charlotte Observer

During Cam Newton’s rookie season, there was occasional talk about the Carolina Panthers limiting how often they allowed their franchise quarterback to run.

It didn’t come from the team’s offensive linemen.

“We’re not saying that,” left tackle Jordan Gross said.

After running just five times during a Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Newton rushed for a career-high 71 yards on 13 carries last weekend in a 35-27 win against New Orleans. Newton also posted his second-highest passer rating (129.2) against the Saints by completing 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.

Gross does not believe that’s a coincidence.

“When he runs, it causes problems for defenses. That 40-yard run he had shows you it’s not like he’s just a slow quarterback running,” Gross said. “He’s a threat on the ground. He threw the ball well, too. I think he plays better when he’s doing all that stuff. He kind of gets more in the groove of things and he throws the ball better and just has a better day usually.”

The Panthers are 6-3 when Newton rushes for at least 50 yards but 1-4 when he is their leading rusher.

Rob Chudzinski’s offense seems to be at its best when the zone read package is clicking, as it was Sunday when Newton read his keys and either handed the ball to a running back or kept it. The Panthers rushed for 219 yards a week after tying a franchise low with 10 rushing yards against Tampa Bay.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team will visit Charlotte on Thursday night, said running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make the zone read even more dangerous.

“You’ve got concerns because not only are they looking to read certain individuals in your defensive front, they’re also setting up other things by his reaction,” Coughlin said. “Not simply if you keep, pull or pitch, all that comes to prevail. When you have a couple of obvious runners the ability of Williams and Stewart, it puts more pressure on you because you can’t arm tackle those guys.”

The same goes for a 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, whose 14 rushing touchdowns last season were the most by a quarterback in league history. The Panthers believe Newton’s size and strength â€" combined with his knack for avoiding the big hit â€" make him less susceptible to injury than other mobile quarterbacks such as Michael Vick.

“If he wants to do it, then let him run the ball,” Gross said. “Because he’s a big, strong guy and he’s one of the best goal-line backs in the league, too.”

Coach Ron Rivera said Newton knows when to make another move, and when to slide.

“He gets hit, but not big. And I think there’s a difference in that, as well,” Rivera said. “And a lot of the runs that we have are calculated. He’s reading for the most part as to whether or not it’s a good idea to hand it off or keep it.

“But it doesn’t hurt my feelings when he hands it off, though. I’m going to be honest. I do worry about him when he’s out there.”

Newton took every snap as a rookie until Week 16, when Derek Anderson came in at the end of a 48-16 win against Tampa Bay. Including this season, Newton has yet to miss a play to injury.

“It’s Cam Newton, 6-5, 250-255 pounds. He’s built like a horse,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “So he’s ready to roll all the time. I’m not worried about him taking a hit.”

Newton said he is up for whatever the coaches want him to do.

“I’m a football player at the end of the day,” he said. “If they want me to run, I’ll run. If they want me to throw, I’ll throw. If they want me to block, I’ll block. If they want me to go get some water to better the team, I’m going to do it.”

Here’s what Gross wants Newton to do: Run now and worry later.

“If I thought I had 12 years left in my career, I’d maybe tell him to slow down. But for me, let’s do it,” said Gross, in his 10th season. “It’s a lot of fun watching him run with the ball. And he doesn’t take a ton of real hard hits. He’s getting smart about getting down and getting out of bounds.”