Parks/Trails/Greenspaces The present clubhouse at the Bobby Jones Golf Course, from which American Golf Corp. staff manage the course and golf play.

Published on May 17th, 2016 |

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Council gets bills to swap Memorial Park land to state for parking deck

Two pieces of legislation introduced during City Council’s Monday meeting would formalize the land swap BuckheadView reported on Jan. 28, sending ownership of the part of Atlanta Memorial Park that includes Bobby Jones Golf Course and the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center to the state of Georgia in exchange for a parking deck adjacent to Underground Atlanta.

The large area of Atlanta Memorial Park to the right of Northside Drive is the area the is the focus of the land swap between the city and state.

The large area of Atlanta Memorial Park to the right of Northside Drive is the focus of the land swap between the city and state.

The legislation, introduced by Council members C.T. Martin and Kwanza Hall on behalf of the Reed Administration, is all part of a deal Mayor Kasim Reed and the city brokered in late 2014 to sell Underground Atlanta to South Carolina developer WRS Inc.

WRS Inc. plans to transform Underground Atlanta into a live-work-play community with apartments and a grocery store. The city having control of a parking deck and nearby lot is critical to the closing of the deal and the state owns the desired parking facility.

Included as part of the swap, the city would also transfer ownership to the state of the property between Underground Atlanta and other state offices and entities, which was formerly the home of the World of Coca-Cola.

The second piece of legislation authorizes the city to accept from the state the parking deck property and a plaza area, which the city would then convey ownership of to the Downtown Development Authority, which is the city entity working the deal with WRS Inc.

Both pieces of legislation were forwarded to the Finance/Executive Committee for review and a vote May 25 before returning to the full City Council for consideration.

The legislation that is most important to Buckhead residents deals with the active portion of Atlanta Memorial Park, which lies on the east side

The aerial map of the present Bobby Jones Golf Course shows how the Friends group would seek to preserve and enhance the present 18-hole course.

The aerial map of the present Bobby Jones Golf Course shows how the Friends group would seek to preserve and enhance the present 18-hole course.

of Northside Drive. The legislation does not include any portion of the “passive” park, which lies to the west of Northside Drive.

The east side of the park has been the topic of much discussion in the past couple of years regarding a Master Plan drawn up by the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy. The plan includes changing the Bobby Jones Golf Course from the present 18-hole layout potentially to a “reversible” 9-hole course.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told Channel 2 Action News that the state would invest between $20 million and $50 million in the course and keep it open to the public. That investment, the mayor said, would include building a driving range.  Reed told Channel 2 that the transaction could be completed in “10-20 days.”  

Tony Smith, president of Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, said the driving range would necessitate conversion of the course to nine holes from 18 holes, which he considers a bad move.

The introduced legislation actually states: “the state wishes to acquire the properties to establish a first-class golf facility of the state with related public amenities, including without limitation a driving range, meeting space and the historic clubhouse located on the golf course, which would benefit the city by providing upgrades to the golf course, enhancing employment opportunities and stimulating economic investment in the area surrounding and including the properties which is anticipated to exceed $50 million.”

The city’s conveyance of the properties to the state includes a conservation easement for the use of the properties as a tennis center and golf course and which includes preservation and maintenance of the historic clubhouse.

It also guarantees “reasonable public access to the tennis and golf facilities and amenities which may also include a golf museum and a parking facility and/or a state park and other ancillary recreational uses.” It requires “solicitation of public input in the design of any golf museum.”

The legislation also calls for “lease-back of the Tennis Center from the state for a term of 50 years for $1.00 per year, the retention of easement and encroachment rights for utilities and other

A photo of the present Bitsy Grant Tennis Center facility.

A photo of the present Bitsy Grant Tennis Center facility.

public infrastructure including …streets, sidewalks and multi-use trails on the properties.”

In an email sent Monday to her constituents, Dist. 8 Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean wrote, “The introduction of this legislation today comes before many of us believed the conversation regarding the future ownership of Bobby Jones was resolved.”

Adrean explained, “I have been and will continue to be a vocal advocate for our community’s interest in this vital public amenity.  For instance, I have been working towards making sure the park is preserved and protected by way of a conservation easement that would ensure its use as a public park for future generations.”

Adrean noted, “Based on my quick review of the legislation, it is my understanding that many of our suggested conditions have been included, including the conservation easement.  Additionally, the State of Georgia intends to make significant investments in the property and golf course, including creating a driving range, a meeting space that the public may use and making renovations to the historic clubhouse. “

Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, whose district encompasses the golf course, said Tuesday that she has asked that there be at least one public hearing on the issue.

Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy Executive Director Catherine Spillman explained the configuration of the proposed underground parking deck and tennis courts at the park during a recent public meeting that was sparsely attended.

Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy Executive Director Catherine Spillman explained the configuration of the proposed underground parking deck and tennis courts at the park during a recent public meeting that was sparsely attended.

Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy Executive Director Catherine Spillman sent BuckheadView the official statement of AMPC from board president Kirk Billings late Tuesday afternoon. That statement follows:

“Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy (AMPC) is seeking to fully understand more about this pending legislation and potential beneficial impact to the park. In light of the recent announcement, we welcome the opportunity to fully engage with the State of Georgia to better understand this possible development.

“AMPC remains focused and committed to our existing long-term goals and objectives.  We will continue our public/private partnership with the City of Atlanta over the greenspace. Currently, AMPC is leading efforts to make immediate and lasting improvements to the following areas:

  • watershed quality
  • pedestrian safety and connectivity
  • sewer issues and repairs
  • greenspace restoration and preservation
  • new and relocated playground”

It the Jan. 28 story, BuckheadView reported that from what it had been told, 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

Marty Elgison, vice president of the Conservancy board, explained the key points about the 9-hole reversible course design that board chose as the preferred plan during a recent meeting.

Marty Elgison, former vice president of the Conservancy board, explained the key points about the 9-hole reversible course design that board chose as the preferred plan during a  meeting months ago.

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, former 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. Elgison has not been a member of the AMPC board for months.

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 mentioned as 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.

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 in January, that those who took the issue to the state did so because they felt

Photo shows City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean at one of the Parks Department's public meetings on the Conservancy's Master Plan proposal.

Photo shows City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean at one of the Parks Department’s public meetings on the Conservancy’s Master Plan proposal.

“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 in January, “What I want is legally binding protection that Memorial Park will always remain a park and will always have a public golf course.”

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