Cousins selling Georgia plantation to Turner

By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 29, 2010

Longtime Atlanta developer Tom Cousins is selling his prized Nonami Plantation near Albany, Ga., to legendary media mogul and environmentalist Ted Turner.

The Nonami Plantation, which is about 8,800 acres, is considered one of the best quail hunting spots in Georgia.

“Tom and Ted have been very good friends for many years,” said Phillip Evans, a spokesman for Turner Enterprises Inc. “It’s my understanding there was a mutual agreement between the two that if Tom ever decided to sell the property, Ted would have the first option.”

Evans said the purchase of the plantation was still “in process.” But the deal is supposed to close in the near future.

“As with all of Turner’s land, Nonami will be managed in an environmentally and ecologically friendly manner,” Evans said of Turner’s plans for the property. Most of the land already is protected under a conservation easement.

This will be the largest purchase of property for Turner in the state where he grew up and built his media empire.

Turner is the largest individual owner of land in the United States, owning more than 2 million acres.

He purchased most of his property to preserve and conserve the land as well as to provide places where buffalo could roam. Those landholdings are located in Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and North Carolina, as well as in South America. Turner owns some land in North Georgia, but nothing as large as the Nonami Plantation.

Cousins did not want to comment on the sale of the Nonami Plantation because it is a personal transaction between friends, according to Billy Wren, CEO of Nonami Enterprises Inc.

Turner’s purchase of the Nonami Plantation is not the first time that he has done business with Tom Cousins.

More than 35 years ago, Turner approached Cousins for a loan so he could build a television empire by leveraging a small local station into a national cable channel through satellite technology. That became the pioneering SuperStation.

In an effort to get relatively inexpensive programming for his SuperStation, Turner then purchased the Atlanta Hawks from Cousins in 1977. (Turner also had acquired the Atlanta Braves for the same reason.)

Their business dealings didn’t stop there.

Five years after starting CNN, the first 24-hour cable news channel, Turner purchased the Omni International office, hotel and retail complex from Cousins. Turner moved CNN to the Omni, which had been developed by Cousins a decade earlier, and rebranded it as CNN Center.

During their decades-long business associations, they developed a strong personal friendship. Turner has spent time each year with Cousins at the Nonami Plantation and Cousins has been a regular guest at Turner’s ranch in Bozeman, Mont.

In fact, when Turner was married to Jane Fonda, Cousins named two of his bird-hunting dogs Ted and Jane in their honor.

The property originally was part of the 14,000-acre Blue Springs Plantation.

According to people familiar with the purchase, Cousins had a hard time coming up with a name for his new quail plantation. Finally, his wife, Ann, said that if he didn’t come up with a name by a certain time, she would call it the great “No Name” plantation, and hence, Nonami was born.

When asked why Turner wanted to buy Nonami, Evans said: “It’s a beautiful piece of land, and it’s been long admired by Ted and others.”
Tom Cousins discusses business with Ted Turner

Excerpt from Turner’s autobiography “Call Me Ted”

A Ted Story: “Captain Teddy’s Kiddy Hour” — Tom Cousins

“I remember going over to his little office on West Peachtree Street. His shirt had this frazzled collar and he sat behind a crummy, low wooden desk. I mean it looked like absolute poverty in a business office. He was asking me for a loan. He told me the banks wouldn’t lend him another dime and he was worried that he might not be able to make the next payroll coming up in ten days or something. I wasn’t much better off than he was back then, but I said, “Yeah, absolutely Ted. I’ll loan you the money.” He brightened up then and he said, “Cuz, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to be the fourth network,” and I’m thinking, “Oh this poor guy, he’s out of his mind.”

And he says, “I’m doing an earth station out in Cobb County and I’m getting on a satellite.” I barely knew about satellites at that point and I certainly didn’t know what an “earth station” was. Then he said, “I’m going to beam my signal up on this satellite and I’m going to be able to put Channel 17 all across America and I’m going to get national ad rates. And you know what I’m going to do next after I have the fourth network?”

I said “No, Ted, what’s that?”

“I’m going to run for president and be elected.”

Now I thought to myself, “This guy is absolutely nuts — and I’ve just agreed to lend him all this money!” I said to Ted, “Oh, Ted, don’t tell anybody else about that, okay?”

And he said, “Cuz, your trouble is you don’t understand the power of television. Let me show you.” He pulled a little book of matches out of his desk drawer and he said, “Okay, it’s Saturday morning at 7:30 and it’s Captain Teddy’s Kiddy Hour, and I come on television and I say, ‘Hey kids, today we’re going to play a game and it’s going to be so much fun. Now, don’t tell Mommy and Daddy, this is our secret between Captain Teddy and you. Now, everybody go get some matches. See Captain Teddy’s matches? Go get some just like this.’” Then he goes over to his window he says, “All right kids, everybody, got your match? Go to the window and strike your match and light the curtain or drape,” at which point he struck his match right near the old cheese-cloth thing he had hanging in front of his window and then he flung the window open and he said to me, “At that point, I’d look out over Atlanta and watch it burn.” It was an incredible performance.

In the first place, he made his point. Television is so powerful that could happen. But number two it absolutely confirmed my conviction that he might be nuts.”

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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