Published on May 26th, 2016 |2
City transfer of Bobby Jones course to state advances after public hearing
The June 3 public meeting, which was added as a requirement for Council consideration of the legislation at its June 6 meeting, will be held at 3 p.m. at the golf course clubhouse, 384 Woodward Way.
(Editor’s Note: City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean announced late Thursday afternoon that the June 3 meeting has been moved from the Bobby Jones Golf Course clubhouse to E. Rivers Elementary School at the corner of Peachtree Road and Peachtree Battle Avenue. The meeting time remains 3 p.m.)
Mayor Kasim Reed has promised to attend, and there also is a promise that state officials will attend in order to give the public an opportunity to ask questions of the involved parties related to the transfer of the property to the state.
The city is considering the transfer of the golf course to the state in return for a state-owned large parking deck next to Underground Atlanta, which the city needs to acquire in order for it to complete the sale of Underground Atlanta to South Carolina-based WRS, Inc.
WRS Inc. plans to convert Underground Atlanta into a multi-use project, which would include a supermarket, retail and restaurants as well as apartments. Mayor Reed told the council committee Wednesday the parking deck has become a critical part of the Underground sale because the scope of the WRS planned project has become “larger and better.” It is the final link to the sale.
Stating that the swap of the golf course for the parking deck has been in discussion for a year, Reed told the Council committee and about 30 residents attending the hearing, “The state would like to own and manage a golf course. They were very candid that Bobby Jones would be ideal.”
Reed explained that the state is contemplating investing $25 million to $50 million in upgrading and redoing the Bobby Jones section of Atlanta Memorial Park, which lies on the east side of Northside Drive.
“The Kind of investment the state will make to Bobby Jones is something the city could not afford to make,” Reed said during his rare and brief address at the Wednesday meeting. He added that a controversial element of the state’s plans is that it plans to remake the golf course into a reversible 9-hole course rather than leaving it as an 18-hole layout.
As part of the state investment, Reed said it would build a practice driving range, a WeeLinks for very young children and create a Bobby Jones museum in honor of the legendary golfer and Atlanta native. The plan to change the course from 18 holes to 9 remains controversial with nearby residents and some golfers.
Reed pointed out that Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean “has had an uneasiness with the plan from the start” and, due to her persistence and insistence, “we have added a conservation easement” that will guarantee that the land continues to be used for its recreational uses.
Adrean told the mayor and the public members attending the Wednesday meeting, “We all deserve to have our questions answered.” She said that is why the meeting June 3 will bring together Reed and pertinent city staff, as well as representatives from the state.
Dist. 9 City Councilwoman Felicia Moore asked the mayor, “When did this become part of the deal for the parking deck?” She did not recall this being discussed as part of the negotiations Council was aware of regarding the sale of Underground Atlanta.
Reed responded, “It has been in process for a year.” The mayor also added that the city is doing a “massive amount of work along this corridor as well,” undoubtedly referring to the commitments he has made to invest $30 million to fix the sewer spills and flooding in the corridor.
When the hearing was turned over to the public for comments, 26 people spoke for two minutes each—mostly in favor of the proposal for the state to take over ownership and operations of the property and follow a development master plan that originally was produced by the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy and which was presented to the city two years ago.
The first speaker was architect Jim Chapman, who said he was representing the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, which opposes the AMPC’s Master Plan with 9-hole golf course. Chapman presented a new plan for the golf course and Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, which he said was drawn up for the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course group.
Councilwoman Adrean said she was “shocked that this is being presented as a plan when there has been no contact from the state or the group” to her or the public about an alternative plan.
Chapman was followed by Bobby Cupp, representing the firm that designed the proposed 9-hole golf course layout for the AMPC’s Master Plan. He said the proposal “falls in line with what Georgia State and the U.S. golf associations have leaned toward.” He added, “It opens the door for junior golf programs.”
He was followed by Mel Locklear and Justin Boller, former and present presidents of the Friends of Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, both of whom supported the Master Plan developed by the AMPC and the state taking ownership of the property.
Boller told the committee, “The current plan developed over the past several years is consistent with our own wish list.” He added, however, that the Bitsy Grant center needs a guarantee that the 10 courts that would be eliminated during construction will be returned.
Marty Elgison, an attorney who was a co-founder of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy and has been a huge supporter of the organization’s Master Plan that calls for a 9-hole reversible golf course, told the group the only change in the plan the state is considering is that “instead of a small golf clubhouse, it now will be much larger.”
Elgison, who is no longer on the AMPC board, was one of four people who originally met with Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and suggested that the state take over the Bobby Jones Golf Course. Two of the other members of the group reportedly were AMPC co-founder Roxanne Smith and Georgia State University golf coach Joe Inman.
Elgison also represents the Bobby Jones family interests and told the committee that the family wholly supports the transfer of the golf course property and operations to the state. Elgison read from a letter from the Jones family that said in part, “Our grandfather would be delighted to hear of the plans to renovate the course.”
Georgia State golf coach Inman said, “Georgia State students will benefit greatly from this for years to come,” referring to adding a practice facility as well as making the golf course a world-class facility. “We desperately want to attract golfer to Georgia State,” he said.
Inman was followed to the podium by at least eight executives with golf associations and golf professionals who applauded the plan for the state to redevelop the golf course with practice facilities, improved turf and course maintenance, adding a golf museum at the course and especially providing facilities that provide an opportunity for youth to learn the game of golf.
The golf groups represented included the Georgia State Golf Association, Atlanta Junior Golf Association, Georgia Section of the PGA, the Adaptive
Golf Association for people with physical disabilities and a director of the First Tee of Atlanta golf program for low income youths.
But not everyone who spoke was in favor of the state takeover of the property and the plans to redevelop the golf course.
Collier Hills North neighborhood resident Roger Moister, who has lived next to the golf course for 30 years, read off a list of reasons his neighborhood association opposes the Master Plan. “ “We do not want driving ranges or nine-hole course. We’re giving away a green jewel of the city,” he told the committee.
Lake Brown favors just making some improvements to the present course layout and says it could include a driving range of 12 bays, instead of the 40 bays included in the AMPC Master Plan.
Brown pointed out to the committee that Bobby Jones golf course has produced revenues of more than $1.37 million a year for the past several years. He said that money has helped bolster the operations of other city golf courses that lose money every year.
That was followed up by Tony Smith, founder of the Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, who referred to Bobby Jones course as “the gem that supports Tupp Holmes Golf Course. You are going to
be making a vote on the future of golf in Atlanta,” he added.
Smith also suggested that students could go to the Brown’s Mill Golf Course, which has driving ranges. Smith has opposed the nine-hole course. He said the Charlie Yates Golf Course in East Atlanta had gone from 18 to nine holes and had lost revenue and tournaments.
Catherine Spillman, executive director of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, told the committee that the Conservancy has three conditions it would like to have added the agreement between the city and state:
- Atlanta Memorial Park always remains a park and that AMPC would be the holder of the Conservation Easement for the property.
- The agreement would include a water filtration plan and improvements to the watershed problems that exist on and around the golf course in cooperation with the city’s Department of Watershed Management.
- There would be a guarantee of local collaboration with the new owners and a provision for local oversight of the redevelopment and operations by AMPC.
The final speaker was local resident Jim Clausen, a golfer who has played Bobby Jones many times in the past and who has a young child who is
interested in golf. “I haven’t played the course recently because of the sub-standard condition of the course,” Clausen said.
He also pointed out that golf takes endless hours of practice and the nearest practice range is a costly commercial venture. He said, “$100 a person is
not a fair price to pay to practice” for me and my child.
Councilwoman Adrean followed up the public comment by asking the city staff who is responsible for the environmental impact created by the construction work on the course and the ongoing maintenance of the sewer pipes under the course and along Peachtree Creek.
The city attorney answered that responsibility for the watershed pipes remain with the city’s Department of Watershed Management. Construction impact on the environment would be reviewed by the city as part of the permitting process.
However, it was pointed out that the state is not required to follow city codes, including the city’s tree ordinance.
Adrean also asked, if the city loses revenues from Bobby Jones, what impact will that have on other Atlanta city public golf courses. Mayor Reed’s aid Katrina Taylor Parks said the other courses are not dependent on revenues from Bobby Jones and the Chastain course. “None of the other programs will be hindered,” she added.
Post 2 At-Large Councilwoman Mary Norwood wanted the proposal to be heard by Neighborhood Planning Unit-C before the city votes on it. “A major change in property ought to be heard by the NPU,” Norwood said. “Process is important.”
Parks responded that this is not one of the normal land conveyances. “This is following state code. Nothing has avoided any process that the city controls. The June 3 meeting is not an itemized element in state code,” she added, suggesting the state does not have to participate.
The city attorney reinforced that position. “The state does not have to cooperate. It could come in and take the property.”