Vance Smith family corporation owning Harmony Place declares bankruptcy

The Dallas Chipley Group of former Georgia DOT Commissioner Vance Smith Jr. and his two sons, Georgia Rep. Kip Smith and Vance Smith III, has declared bankruptcy because of cash-flow issues with its sole asset, Columbus' Harmony Place shopping center at Whitesville Road and Airport Thruway.

The limited liability corporation was represented in bankruptcy court this morning by attorney Ashley Reynolds Ray of the Atlanta law firm Scroggins & Williamson. She said that like other real estate investments, Harmony Place has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn, suffering declining rents from lost tenants.

Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John T. Laney II has granted the Smiths' corporation permission to use "cash collateral" to maintain operations according to a specified budget. That enables the Smiths to continue to pay necessary expenses such as insurance, utilities and building maintenance, as they make arrangements to pay off other debts.

Ray said the bankruptcy should have no effect on Harmony Place tenants, and the Smiths intend eventually to emerge from bankruptcy with the business intact. The elder Smith and his namesake attended the hearing but declined to comment.

According to its filings and what Ray told Laney, Dallas Chipley owes $6 million to SunTrust Bank, $1.2 million to Atlanta's Georgia Commerce Bank, and $76,000 in property taxes to the Muscogee Tax Commissioner. Columbus Bank & Trust also is among the corporation's creditors.

Ray said Dallas Chipley purchased the 16-acre shopping center in June 2007. That was when Dallas Chipley organized and registered with the Georgia Secretary of State, according to state records.

The shopping center at 2301 Airport Thruway has 120,500 square feet of retail space, Ray said.