The sale of most of Atlanta Memorial Park in Buckhead from the city to the state is one step closer to fruition.
The Atlanta City Council Monday 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 both the active side of the park (144 of its 199 acres) 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.
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.
Adrean, whose district includes the park, said she voted against the sale because a state representative did not attend Friday's community meeting at E. Rivers Elementary School in Buckhead, where residents could weigh in on the deal before the council voted on it.
“While the administration showed up, including the mayor, deputy chief of staff, chief operating officer, the commissioner of parks, the council president, council members Moore, [Kwanza] Hall, [Andre] Dickens and myself, the state did not send a representative,” she said, adding two representatives of state golf organizations with interest in the park’s Bobby Jones Golf Course did attend. “They sent the golf coach from Georgia State University [Joe Inman] and Chuck Palmer, a Georgia State Golf Association board member and a Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation board member.
“I had hoped this meeting would become a point where the community could have a dialogue with the state and announce their intentions. That didn’t happen. While the partners have expressed their vision for the park, we have not heard directly from the state. That was my disappointment. [The state] has made a lot of commitments to the public and community concern has been widely reported, and I’m hoping at some point this dialogue with the state would begin.”
The original legislation was amended three ways, Adrean said. 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.
“So what I’m hoping to do is to arrange a [clubhouse] lease with another nonprofit such as the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course,” Adrean said.
She said the state had originally agreed to allow the city to lease the tennis center to the state for 50 years but reduced it to 20 years. But Adrean and Dickens got approval for an amendment to increase the lease term back to 50 years.
Adrean said the transaction now moves to Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.
“The legislation passing gave the mayor authority to execute the deed,” she said. “The conditions, which are enumerated in the legislation, are restrictive-use covenants for the park, an agreement with the community and access for right-of-ways for multiuse trails and sidewalks and public infrastructure.”
Anne Torres, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said Tuesday the mayor has seven days from the ordinance’s passage to sign it into law. After that the deal would go to the state.
Tony Smith, president of Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, which helps beautify and maintain the links, said several commercial interests, 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.
Smith 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, which is part of the conservancy’s master plan that includes adding a parking deck and a driving range, a move he said will cause the course to lose business. 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.
Smith, who attended the council meeting, said he was disappointed by how fast the sale was approved.
“The meeting scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. before the vote Monday at 1 p.m. allowed no time to analyze the questions [from residents],” he said. “Felicia Moore made some good attempts to extend the vote for two weeks, but that was voted down. The mayor’s request for prompt action carried the day. Otherwise I was disappointed in the outcome. The process was rushed and the lack of the full disclosure of the appraisal for 144 acres of land. Mathematically, the 1.45-acre parking deck is one 100th of the 144 acres being given up.”
Smith also said he was surprised a state representative did not attend the community meeting.
“To give up the acreage of this beautiful park to an unknown entity seemed strange,” he said.
Kirk Billings, the conservancy’s board president, addressed the council’s vote in a letter emailed to the organization’s constituents Tuesday night.
“AMPC is pleased to see a resolution of the ownership and looks forward to the opportunity of working and collaborating with the state, the surrounding neighborhoods and other stakeholders for the implementation of important elements of AMPC’s originally envisioned master plan. These include improved pedestrian connectivity, resolution of watershed issues and the reaching of an amenable plan on the future use of the existing clubhouse. … AMPC looks forward to engaging with the state to ensure that AMPC’s work and community outreach over the past five years are incorporated into the state’s valuable plans. Concurrently, AMPC will continue to work with the city of Atlanta on implementing the recommendations outlined in the feasibility study for the west side of Northside Drive, including the new, relocated playground for Memorial Park.”
Cindy Presto, spokeswoman for State Property Officer Steve Stancil, who will oversee the park transaction, issued a statement regarding the council’s decision.
“The state will methodically go through what the city council adopted [last week]. We hope to be able to end up with an agreement that will be a win-win situation for both the city and the state,” she said, adding the state had no further comment on the deal because it is still pending.
Presto said she did not know why a state representative did not attend Friday's community meeting.