By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 10, 2012
Plans to develop a Truett Cathy Legacy Project on the campus of Morris Brown College have fallen through.
But Chick-fil-A Inc. leaders are still exploring opportunities near the Vine City neighborhood to create a youth community complex with sports, business and family support components in honor of the company’s founder.
The project, which would have been an urban version of Chick-fil-A’s Camp Winshape at Berry College in Rome, Ga., was announced last March during the celebration of Truett Cathy’s 90th birthday. Negotiations with Morris Brown, the preferred location for the project, have been under way ever since.
“Yes, it is unfortunate that discussions to utilize portions of the Morris Brown College campus for a planned neighborhood youth and community center will not be pursued,” Chick-fil-A spokesman Don Perry wrote in an e-mail.
“After several months of due diligence on the potential undertaking of a shared-use agreement with Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown on the use of portions of the MBC campus, it was determined that this direction was not financially feasible,” Perry continued in his e-mail.
Making a deal with Morris Brown had been viewed as a complicated proposition from the beginning.
The historically black college has been mired in debt, and it lost its accreditation and federal funding in 2002 following the mismanagement of the school’s finances. The college’s enrollment shrank from about 2,500 to a few dozen students. The United Negro College Fund also terminated its support for Morris Brown.
The college, which is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, also is facing a lawsuit from a Morris Brown creditor — GTAS Asset Solutions Inc. The lawsuit claims that there has been “a fraudulent conspiracy between AME and Morris Brown to shield Morris Brown’s assets from legitimate creditors.” GTAS has further claimed that AME owes it $13.7 million.
Another complication was that Clark Atlanta University had originally deeded part of the campus to Morris Brown with a reversionary clause. That stipulated that if Morris Brown ever ceased to operate as an institution of higher learning, that property would revert back to Clark Atlanta.
That issue had been resolved because Clark Atlanta’s board voted to support the legacy project last year and agreed to work toward coming up with a lease with Chick-fil-A to permit the project to go forward.
At the time, people in the community had hoped that the legacy project would be part of a way to help Morris Brown work through its financial problems.
But the college’s significant debts and legal issues ended up being major hurdles that could not be overcome.
However, all is not lost. “The good news is that we are still very committed to locating such a youth and community center in Vine City/West End corridor,” Perry wrote in his e-mail. “Multiple sites have always been under consideration.”
Perry also forwarded over a letter that Dan Cathy, Truett Cathy’s son and Chick-fil-A’s president, sent Feb. 2 to a group of stakeholders and dignitaries who attended his father’s 90th birthday celebration last March at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall.
Here is a copy of that letter:
It is hard to believe that it has been almost one year since we all celebrated together the 90th birthday of our Dad, Truett Cathy, Founder of Chick-fil-A, Inc. It was a memorable night of celebration, and as we approach Truett’s 91st birthday, I wanted to update you on our work during the past year.
We have established the S. Truett Cathy Foundation (“Foundation”) with the mission of serving the City of Atlanta by helping families and youth build a positive legacy, striving to become all they are created to be. This commitment not only led to the establishment of the Foundation, but also the pursuit of programming opportunities in the Vine City and West End communities of Atlanta which include plans for a neighborhood youth and community center.
Several sites are being considered for construction of the youth and community center. In particular, Chick-fil-A and the Cathy Foundation have worked with Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown College on the feasibility of a shared-use agreement involving portions of the Morris Brown campus.
A business decision has been made for us not to pursue this direction, and we will continue to look for alternative sites in the Vine City and West End corridor. Additionally, the Foundation is also actively exploring impactful opportunities through community-based partnerships with Junior Achievement and other noteworthy organizations.
We are also proud to announce an inner-city youth initiative with Fellowship of Christian Athletes that will host in-town baseball, soccer, football and basketball camps during the summer of 2012. We expect these programs to positively impact over 1,000 youth in Atlanta.
We are also excited that Rodney Bullard has recently joined us as Executive Director of the Foundation. An Atlanta native, Rodney is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and Duke University Law School. Most recently, he served with the U.S. Attorney’s Office as an Assistant United States Attorney in Atlanta. I know you will enjoy getting to know Rodney and we look forward to his leadership moving ahead.
The Foundation is committed to financial stewardship and its mission to positively impact lives of Atlanta inner-city youth and service to Atlanta communities. Thank you, again, for your support and interest in our mission. We will keep you updated.
Dan T. Cathy