Friends' concert to aid developer in distress

September 07, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

They call Paul M. Pearson the man who transformed Annapolis.

He turned a broken-down boatyard into Tecumseh, the first condominium in the city, renovated several historic properties, created the Historic Inns of Annapolis hotel chain and opened the King of France Tavern, a premier jazz club for more than 20 years in the basement of one of those hotels.

Despite those accomplishments, the 70-year-old Mr. Pearson is almost broke because of a series of business reversals.

That's why a group of entertainers, restaurant and hotel owners, friends, and others Mr. Pearson has touched over the years are putting on a jazz concert Sept. 18 to raise money to pay some of his bills.

"So much of what makes Annapolis what it is is through Paul's influence," said Jan Hardesty, who is coordinating the restaurant and hotel contributions to the event. "Paul gave Annapolis class."

Mary Soria, a long-time friend who is organizing the tribute, said so many entertainers volunteered to perform for the event, that not everyone could fit into the program.

Many of them have been regulars at the King of France. They include guitarist Charlie Byrd, who will be the master of ceremonies for the tribute, singers Ethel Ennis and Sue Matthews, guitarist John Pizzarelli, pianist Stef Scaggiari and the folk group The Hard Travelers.

Ms. Matthews, who lives in Severna Park, said she wanted to thank Mr. Pearson for helping launch her career as a jazz singer. "I couldn't even begin to repay Paul for everything he has done for me," said Ms. Matthews, who has sung in the tavern for 10 years.

Ms. Ennis, who was one of the first singers to play the tavern when it opened, said she wanted to perform to show her admiration for Mr. Pearson. "He has worked very hard to keep what he began," she said. "He has convictions."

Anna Greenberg, who is helping raise money for the event, said simply, "He has taken Annapolis to new heights."

The tribute will begin with a VIP dance and artist's reception in the gymnasium of the Maryland Hall for Creative Arts. The concert will follow in the hall's auditorium at 7 p.m. Afterward, a reception will be held at Fergie's in Edgewater.

Tickets are $35 for the concert only and $75 for the reception, dance and preferred seating at the concert.

Proceeds from the show will be deposited at Sterling Bank & Trust to be used to pay Mr. Pearson's legal bills, Ms. Soria said. She said she hopes to raise enough to pay Mr. Pearson's $32,000 legal bills. So far, ticket sales are going well, she said.

Mr. Pearson said he cried when he heard of the tribute.

"It came together so fast, it was unbelievable," he said.

Despite his precarious financial situation, he remains upbeat.

"I like the saying, 'If you're skating on thin ice, you might as well dance.' I dance as often as I can."

Mr. Pearson first came to Annapolis in 1968 to sail. It wasn't much to look at then, but he was fascinated by the city, he said.

He began buying property and renovating buildings. He did so well that by the mid-1980s, he could get a big loan with just his signature.

But the economy turned against him. Interest rates on construction loans soared. The recession slowed business at his hotels and the rebricking of State Circle drove away guests at the three inns on the circle.

Then came cost overruns on the renovation of the historic Reynolds Tavern. He eventually was forced to abandon that project although the restoration work done there is widely considered among the best in Annapolis.

"What happened to Paul could happen to anyone," Mrs. Hardesty said.

Finally, in 1990, he sought refuge in bankruptcy court. But before negotiations to restructure the inns' mortgages could be completed, the bank holding the loans went under.

The Resolution Trust Corp., a quasi-governmental company that takes over loans of failed banks, sold control to a Dallas-based company that quickly filed court papers to take over the inns.

Mr. Pearson still is fighting to keep control of the inns. He continues to operate the King of France, booking performers and writing marketing brochures.

And he's still thinking about ways to improve Annapolis. He wants to see the city build a monorail that would carry passengers from the Naval Academy stadium to Calvert Street at the edge of the downtown and help relieve traffic congestion.

He's against a plan to build a conference center on a parcel of land on West Street, and is working on an alternative proposal to use the site for an executive retreat.

Mr. Pearson is anxious to get the debts behind him and go on to other projects.

He likes to quote the poet and playwright Goethe: "Whatever you can do -- or think you can -- begin it, for boldness has genius and power and magic in it."

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