The sale of Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead from the city to the state has cleared another hurdle.
The Georgia Building Authority board, at its meeting in downtown Atlanta Thursday, voted to authorize State Property Officer Steve Stancil, who will oversee the park transaction, to move forward with negotiations with the city on the deal.
The Atlanta City Council June 6 voted 12-3 to approve the legislation regarding the transaction, with council members Yolanda Adrean, Felicia Moore and Mary Norwood opposed. The deal calls for the 144-acre golf course, located within the 199-acre Atlanta Memorial Park, and a nearly half-acre, empty parcel of land downtown where the World of Coca-Cola previously was located to be sold to the state. According to the legislation, the city would get in return a piece of land downtown known as the plaza parcel and state parking deck.
It is part of a deal that includes the city's sale of Underground Atlanta to WRS Inc. Real Estate Investments, a Mount Pleasant, South Carolina-based company that plans to transform it into a mixed-use development. The plaza property is next to Underground and will be sold to WRS as part of the transaction. Mayor Kasim Reed signed off on the transaction earlier this month, which Adrean said gives Reed the authority to execute the deed.
“Every one of these transactions is different and this one is especially different because it’s not a direct acquisition between two parties because both parties own real estate,” said Cindy Presto, a spokeswoman for Stancil. “A typical property transaction [with the state] takes from 30 days to three or four months.”
The park includes the golf course, the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, a playground and trails on both the east and west side of Northside Drive. Adrean said the legislation includes a provision to keep the city’s commitment to spend at least $30 million to help fix the stormwater sewer overflow problems that have plagued the park. The park’s passive side will remain under city ownership, and the city will lease the tennis center from the state for $1 a year for 50 years.
The city’s original legislation was changed in three ways before or during the council meeting when it was approved.
First, the state is only investing $25 million in the park’s improvements after originally committing to up to $50 million. Second, the state changed the park’s conservation easement to a land-use restriction for parks, meaning it still will be limited to park use. Third, the state originally committed to preserving and protecting the golf course’s clubhouse, which dates back to 1941, nine years after the golf course was built, but removed that provision.
Several state organizations, including Georgia State University’s golf team, which is seeking a permanent practice facility; the Georgia State Golf Association, which could move its Georgia Golf Hall of Fame there; and U.S. Kids Golf; would like to see the park owned by the state.
Tony Smith, president of Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, which helps beautify and maintain the links, has said if the state takes ownership of the park, he fears the course will be transformed from an 18-hole format to a nine-hole one, a move Smith said will cause the course to lose business. That proposal is part of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy’s master plan, about $15 million and funded by donations, that includes adding a parking deck and a driving range.
An online petition asking the city to keep the course 18 holes received 585 signatures, about halfway short of its goal, but is now closed. The Friends group proposed spending $1.5 million to $3 million of its own money and/or donations to improve the course but keep it at 18 holes. Smith said he hopes the state will give his organization an opportunity to present its plan soon.