Published on January 28th, 2016 |1
State may take over Bobby Jones Golf Course and kick-start changes
There may be a deal afloat for the state of Georgia to take over control of the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta Memorial Park from the city through the use of eminent domain in order to kick-start an apparently dormant Master Plan to transform the 18-hole golf course to a new 9-hole upgraded facility.
Although there are few people talking on the record about possible negotiations between the state and the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed, BuckheadView has had several off-the-record conversations that begin to lay out a picture of who and what are involved and why.
BuckheadView believes one sure indicator the city plans to give up ownership of the Bobby Jones Golf Course property is that when the city recently sent out a request for proposal (RFP) to hire a management company for all Atlanta city golf courses, Bobby Jones Golf Course was not on the list of golf courses, according to a member of City Council. And, BuckheadView has also been told that the present golf course management company, American Golf, does not plan to seek renewal of its contract for the Bobby Jones course.
Part of the story was published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Jan. 20 which referred to a land swap being the works that would give the Bobby Jones Golf Course to the state in return for the city being given state parking facilities surrounding Underground Atlanta in downtown.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the city brokered a deal in late 2014 to sell Underground Atlanta to South Carolina developer WRS Inc., which plans to build a live-work-play community with apartments and a grocery store. The city having control of a parking deck and nearby lot are critical to closing on the deal, according to the AJC story. The state owns the parking facilities.
(To read the Jan. 21 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, click here.)
From what BuckheadView has been told, it seems that the state got involved because one or more members of the board of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy became irritated that a Master Plan the Conservancy had submitted to the city approximately two years ago seemed to be stalled by inertia in the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
Apparently the person or persons who were upset with the delays in moving forward, went to see Lieutenant Gov. Casey Cagle and suggested that the state takeover control and operation of the Bobby Jones Golf Course and painted a picture of how it would benefit the state to do so.
One person’s name that kept coming up in BuckheadView’s discussions was that of attorney Martin (Marty) Elgison, vice president of the AMPC board who has been a passionate proponent of the suggested reversible 9-hole golf course layout with the addition of a driving range and kids golf facility, new golf clubhouse and underground parking deck facility with lockers, etc. BuckheadView attempted to reach Elgison with no success.
Apparently, Cagle was told that both the Georgia State Golf Association and the Georgia Golf Trail organizations would be interested linking up with the Bobby Jones Golf Course if the facility was improved. Apparently GSGA might establish its Georgia Golf Hall of Fame at the course.
Three other organizations apparently interested in linking up with the Bobby Jones course if improved (especially according to the Conservancy’s approved Master Plan) are Georgia State University, Atlanta Junior Golf and U.S. Kids Golf. Georgia State University is looking for a practice facility for its gold team including a driving range.
It makes some sense that Elgison would be involved with taking the issue to the state, due both to his passion for the redevelopment of the golf course and the fact he represents the interests of the Bobby Jones family and protecting its legacy. Having the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame located in the original clubhouse facility for the Bobby Jones Golf Course would help that cause.
Also, the “Bobby Jones Georgia Golf Trail” of statewide courses is being developed and promoted by Jones Golf and the state Tourism Department.
Dist. 8 Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean told BuckheadView she understands the approach to the state by AMPC board members “was not sanctioned by the board.”
Adrean said, “I believe things are slowing down a bit right now” because of outstanding issues. “There are no contracts, no legislation,” as far as she
knows and she believes “it being driven by the state. Nothing is settled,” she told BuckheadView. But said conversation is ongoing.
Adrean said those who took the issue to the state did so because they felt “everything had stopped at the Parks Department” regarding the Conservancy’s Master Plan, which estimates the makeover of the golf course at $23 million.
“They claim to have access to the $23 million in funding (in commitments) to accomplish the Master Plan,” Adrean told BuckheadView. “However, their funders were not interested in donating the money to the city but would accept the state as a partner.” She said they simply did not trust the city to use the money as intended.
Adrean told BuckheadView the state has the legal authority to take the Bobby Jones Golf Course land—even the entire Atlanta Memorial Park—through the use of eminent domain. “However, they have to compensate the city if they do that,” she added.
That compensation apparently could be in the form of a transfer of property instead of cash. That could be where the parking facilities come into play. But it is not just a simple land swap.
Adrean told BuckheadView, “What I want is legally binding protection that Memorial Park will always remain a park and will always have a public golf course. Right now there is nothing in writing at all” regarding any transaction, she added.
Buckhead’s Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook told BuckheadView, “I know that top admininstration folks are working with the state on a deal where the latter takes over (lease, purchase, or swap I don’t know) some or all of Bobby Jones with the intent of building a facility of some sort.”
Shook added, “Knowing the mayor I would guess that there are multiple moving parts here; and I doubt they’ve all been revealed to more than a couple of administration and state officials.”
Buckhead resident and Atlanta Councilwoman Mary Norwood said she has been aware of the controversy going on between the two factions–one wanting to retain the present 18-hole layout and the other favoring a new 9-hole reversible course layout–but she has not taken sides on that issue.
Norwood told BuckheadView whatever is done there needs to address the sewage pollution and flooding issues with Peachtree Creek. She wants the
involved parties to take a long-range view of all those issues.
Adrean said, the issue of whether the golf course is 18 or 9 holes is not central to this discussion of whether or not the state takes over control of Bobby Jones Golf Course.
The AJC story was prompted by Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course president Tony Smith who said his organization is afraid the public course along Peachtree Creek in south Buckhead could be part of the high-stakes trade. His group is vehemently opposed to changing the course from its present 18-hole configuration to a reversible 9-hole layout.
Smith told the AJC he pieced together details about the potential land swap in recent weeks, and it appears to involve state-owned parking facilities near Underground Atlanta ultimately going to Underground’s developer in exchange for the city-owned golf course. The former World of Coca-Cola building downtown is also said to somehow be part of the talks.
Residents and others around the golf course want to know whether the facility is involved in negotiations, but city and state officials aren’t talking—certainly not about any details.
In a brief interview with the AJC, Reed said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the sale talks, but did say he expects a deal to be reached soon, possibly this quarter. He declined to confirm whether a land swap was at the center of the talks, or if the Bobby Jones course was involved.
Smith ‘s group fears that should the Bobby Jones course come under state control, it could lead to substantial changes at the facility named for the famed golfer and founder of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters golf tournament.
The property, though much of it is within a flood plain, also could be valuable to developers for its location along the Atlanta Beltline in Buckhead.
The official response to the AJC story from the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy was:
“Some of Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy’s (AMPC) constituents have asked AMPC to comment on the AJC article (“Underground deal to involve Bobby Jones Golf Course land swap?”), which describes a proposal to transfer ownership of Bobby Jones Golf Course from the city of Atlanta to the state.
“AMPC is waiting for the city or state to confirm whether such a transaction will take place and if so to provide details sufficient for AMPC to understand the implications for Atlanta Memorial Park and AMPC. If and when the reports are confirmed and details are provided, AMPC will review that information and determine its position.
“In the interim, the board of AMPC remains grateful to its supporters who want to see Atlanta Memorial Park improved as outlined in the publicly vetted draft Master Plan submitted to the city of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation in January 2014.”