Published on June 7th, 2016 |0
City Council OKs transfer of Bobby Jones Golf Course to state ownership
City council members Yolanda Adrean, Mary Norwood and Felicia Moore, each of whom represent a portion of Buckhead, were the lone opposing voters.
In return for deeding the parkland to the state, the state will swap to the city a parking garage and plaza area next door to Underground Atlanta, which the city needs in order to sell Underground to a developer who plans to build apartments, a supermarket, retail and restaurants.
Council members voted in favor of the deal, after hearing from nearly two dozen people — including the mayor — about the project.
“I’ve never been before you asking for anything on behalf of the state,” Reed said. “For me to be here, it must be pretty important.”
The mayor compared the deal to one that moved the Cyclorama from Zoo Atlanta to the Atlanta History Center, allowing the zoo to expand and raising money for the history center.
But opponents to the swap were concerned about traffic and runoff. Some also said that Atlanta doesn’t protect its history and worry that losing the revenue from the course will hurt the financial viability of other courses.
The Monday vote followed a public meeting Friday afternoon at E. Rivers Elementary School which had been billed as a forum at which Mayor Kasim Reed and representatives of the state would explain the “land swap” plan and would answer questions from concerned Buckhead residents and Bobby Jones Golf Course stakeholders.
No representatives from the state showed for the two-hour Friday meeting which reportedly drew a crowd of about 200 people, some wielding signs decrying a “shady land swap.”
Attempting to hold the legislation for two weeks, Moore and made a motion to send it back to the Executive Finance Committee. Moore said that since the state didn’t send any representatives to the June 3 public meeting to answer questions, the legislation should be held until answers were forthcoming. Her motion failed.
What the City Council actually voted on Monday was an amended ordinance sent over by the state, which was outlined by city attorney Robin Shahar, which indicated the state’s investment in the
golf course will exceed $25 million.
That state investment will include transforming the course from 18-holes to a reversible 9-hole course, adding driving ranges for public and college team use, a Bobby Jones Museum and a new structure to house the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, offices of the Georgia State Golf Association and Georgia PGA.
The state said it would lease back the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center to the city for 20 years and the city would also get an easement for multi-purpose paths through the park, including PATH and the Atlanta BeltLine.
City attorney Shahar reminded council members and the public that the state could simply come and take the golf course without any negotiations at all.
Mayor Reed spoke at the Monday City Council meeting and reiterated that the transaction was best for the city and community. “When this is all said and done, this will be the best golf facility in the region and state of Georgia,” Reed said.
He also promised the deal would not “fly out the door” and said the city council’s vote would give him authorization to negotiate better terms with the state. He again acknowledged that the renovation of the golf course from 18 to 9 holes was controversial, but many favor it including the family of the golf course’s namesake, Bobby Jones.
The course along Peachtree Creek is named after the Georgia golf legend and founder of the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National Golf Club although he did not design the course.
Marty Elgison, a spokesman for the Jones family, said they are in support of the swap. In a letter to council members, Robert Tyre Jones IV wrote with “enthusiastic support” that his grandfather “would be delighted to hear of the plans to renovate” the course.
“The golf course is obsolete. It’s dangerous. It doesn’t really honor their grandfather’s legacy,” Elgison said. “A new course is something their grandfather would be proud of. It will help bring people into golf; it will grow the game.”
The proposal had support from within the industry, and more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the swap. Chuck Palmer, chairman of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Committee, said the course “absolutely” had to change.
Those who support the state’s plans for transforming the golf course facilities claim the state plan largely aligns with plans developed several years ago by the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy to redevelop the park.
The land transfer to the state only includes that portion of Atlanta Memorial Park on the east side of Northside Drive—the larger part of the park generally referred to as the active part of the park. The section of Atlanta Memorial Park west of Northside Drive will remain in city ownership.
City Councilmember Yolanda Adrean said she would keep fighting for the terms demanded by the community and said Reed could expect to see her in his office as the process continued.