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Column: John Williams says Cobb school board ‘kicked’ him ‘in the ass’

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on April 4, 2014

Goodbye Cobb County. For the first time in 40 years, John Williams— the legendary apartment developer and metro power broker — will not be based in Cobb County.

Williams signed a lease on March 28 to move his current company — Preferred Apartment Communities — from the One Overton Park building where he has been for 10 years to the Medici building on Northside Drive in the city of Atlanta. The move is a direct result of a $100 million mixed-use project near the Cobb Energy Centre proposed by Williams getting turned down for incentives last year by the Cobb County school board.

“We wanted to build a building in a mixed-use development in Cobb County but the school board blocked our incentives,” Williams said in a March 31 interview. “We told them that if they did, there was a high likelihood that we would be moving out of Cobb, and we are.”

Williams, founder of Post Properties Inc. and a major booster of Cobb County, was instrumental in the building of the Galleria, the Cobb Energy Centre, the forming of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and the renovation of the town squares in Marietta and Smyrna, and is a former chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber. He also is a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. Although Williams was upset that his development deal fell through, the move to the Forum is being done for business reasons.

“We just need to consolidate,” Williams said. “We’ve got people all over, and we need to have people under one roof. We are financially better off by making this move.”

Dan DuPree, vice chairman of Preferred Apartment Communities, said the lease is for 60,000 square feet. The company and about five other firms with which it does business will take up two full floors and parts of two other floors in the building. The move is expected to occur by Sept. 1.

Williams, however, did not hide his displeasure with the current politics in Cobb. “We had an opportunity to build a world-class mixed-use development, but there’s a reason there hasn’t been a new building of stature built in Cobb in 13 years or a new class A hotel in 20 years,” Williams said.

And while he said he’s happy the Atlanta Braves will be moving to Cobb, Williams said, “there’s a lot of concern in Cobb County about the cost of the Braves, and who is going to pay.”

Williams also was unhappy with the way he was treated by the school board. After appearing at the board meeting and waiting for two and a half hours, board members did not allow him to speak on behalf of his project.

“I’m only willing to be kicked in the ass once,” Williams said. “A lot of Cobb County politics has been taken over by the Tea Party, and being a member of the Tea Party doesn’t equal having an IQ.”

Phil Kent honored with Woodruff grant

It was the perfect departing retirement gift for Phil Kent.

On March 31, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. associates surprised retiring chairman Kent with a one-of-a-kind $200,000 contribution to the Woodruff Arts Center in his honor.

Turner is establishing a Phil Kent Creative Fellowship at the Woodruff Arts Center over the next four years to recognize his leadership and devotion to the arts in the community. Each year, for the next four years, a Kent Fellow will receive $50,000 to serve in one of the four entities that is part of the Center.

“Everyone associated with the Woodruff Arts Center owes a great deal of thanks to Turner Broadcasting and, especially, to Phil Kent,” said Virginia Hepner, CEO and president of the Woodruff Arts Center. “Phil and the entire Turner organization are wonderful supporters of the art we create here. It is a perfect tribute to Phil to have a fellowship created in his name and we are thrilled to be a partner in this effort.”

Kent, who served as CEO of Turner Broadcasting from 2003 through the end of 2013, was genuinely touched by the gift. “It was an incredible gesture,” Kent said in a telephone interview the day after the retirement dinner held in his honor where the fellowship was announced. “Throughout my whole adult life, I’ve been involved in supporting creative people. Turner Broadcasting is a creative company. I’ve supported the Woodruff Arts Center philanthropically. I’m incredibly proud of my company for doing this.”

At the discretion of the Center and its units, the Kent Fellow will participate in various aspects of the creative process as actor, musician, playwright, education partner, mentor, creative director or in some other capacity that furthers his or her professional interests and those of the respective units of the Center.

Candidates for the Kent Fellowship will apply through a process established by the Woodruff Arts Center. A committee formed by the Center and to include Phil Kent and a representative of Turner Corporate Responsibility will make the final selections.

Kent also recently received the Dan Sweat Award from Central Atlanta Progress for his contributions to downtown and a host of civic institutions. When accepting the award, Kent made a reference to Turner Broadcasting, which now has based virtually all of its top executives in New York City rather than Atlanta.

“I have been very proud to not only lead Turner Broadcasting, but to be an active member of this business community, which is like no other,” Kent said at the CAP annual breakfast on March 19. “I can say with full confidence that Turner Broadcasting will continue to do its part, as will I.”

On April Fools’ Day, Kent was on his way to New York City to begin to enjoy his retirement. When asked about his plans for the future, Kent said: “I’m not going to be working on anything for a while.” As for Atlanta, Kent said: “I’m going to own a home in Atlanta for years to come.”

Flight of the Butterflies

The Brain Tumor Foundation for Children will host “Flight of the Butterflies: A Tribute to our Heroes & Angels” on Saturday evening, April 5, at the Atlanta History Center.

The emcees for the evening will be two local husband-wife teams: consumer expert Clark Howard and actress Lane Carlock; and Fox News Channel Senior National Correspondent John Roberts and CNN News Correspondent Kyra Phillips. Honorees will include nearly 50 pediatric brain tumor survivors aged 12 years and up who have been served by the foundation. Also in attendance will be the parents of dozens of children whose lives have been cut short by the disease.

Improving health with data

The CDC Foundation has received $1.6 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help launch a new project on how to use the best available data to help people make healthier choices. Experts will work with federal partners to develop 10 to 15 evidence-based reports during the next three years to highlight the state of laws and policies related to specific topic areas within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2020 initiative.

“To protect and improve health, law and policy evidence are crucial,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Projects such as this will go a long way to help get us to our destination of a more healthy nation faster.”

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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