Judge postpones approval of Morris Brown land sale until June 12
By Maria Saporta
After two objections were filed this week opposing the sale of Morris Brown’s land to the city’s Invest Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church for $14.6 million, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Barbara Ellis-Monro gave the parties two more weeks to work out their differences.
She will review the proposed sale, with any revisions, at 10 a.m. on June 12. At that time, she will decide whether to allow the sale to proceed.
Morris Brown College filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012 when it revealed that it had about $30 million in debt. Since then, it has been trying to work its way out of bankruptcy with its greatest asset being about 36 acres of land that it has along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive about two to three blocks west of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium that is now under construction.
Invest Atlanta and Friendship have offered $14.6 million to buy all the property except for three buildings south of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that Morris Brown College could continue to use. That offer was the “highest and best offer” of seven received, according to Morris Brown’s attorney Anne Aaronson.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church, the major creditor of Morris Brown College’s debt, is objecting to the $14.6 million sale because it says it holds debt of $18.6 million.
The AME church also is objecting to the fact that the proposed sale does not specify how or when the “net proceeds will be distributed.”
The second objection was filed by Clark Atlanta University, which has a long-standing claim to about 17 acres of the 36-acre property that is being sold.
Before the AME national church’s debt can be paid, first the U.S. Department of Education must be repaid $1.5 million.
Melissa Mullinax, a spokeswoman for the City of Atlanta, said after Thursday’s hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that the city’s “offer is not going to change.” The only issue that’s under discussion between the parties is over details on the timing of the transaction. “There is no conversation about changing the offer,” she said.
Lloyd Hawk, chairman of the board of trustees of Friendship Baptist Church, agreed, saying that the $14.6 million offer was firm.
If the AME Church ends up accepting the Invest Atlanta-Friendship offer, and it is approved by Judge Ellis-Monro, it is not known at this time how much money would be available for Morris Brown to continue operating the college. It has been operating a skeletal unaccredited institution with between 30 to 50 students a year and with fewer than a dozen faculty members.
Bishop Preston Williams II, chairman of the Morris Brown College board of trustees, said the fate of the college is in the hands of the bankruptcy court and with the Global Church.
Robert Williamson, an attorney with Scroggins & Williamson who is representing the AME Church, said: “That’s part of what is going to be discussed.”
Morris Brown has had its trials and tribulations for more than a decade since it lost its accreditation in 2003 and the United Negro College Fund later pulled its support.
Asked whether this transaction would provide enough funding for Morris Brown to survive, Bishop Williams said: “We pray that it is so. Morris Brown is dear to our hearts.”
Morris Brown does have a rich history in the African-American community, Williams reiterated.
“It was started by the children of slaves,” the Bishop said. “What other school has done that?”
The objection by Clark Atlanta University has its own complexities. Clark Atlanta used to own the property, but it gave it to Morris Brown with the condition that if it were ever to quit being used for educational purposed that it would revert back to Clark Atlanta.
David Wender, an attorney with Alston & Bird who is representing Clark Atlanta, said it is important that CAU’s interests are not forgotten no matter what happens with this transaction.
But in a press release, Clark Atlanta made it clear that it is willing to work on a solution with all the parties involved.
“Notwithstanding the objection, Clark Atlanta will continue to demonstrate support of our sister school and is interested in working with Invest Atlanta toward a plan to redevelop a portion of Morris Brown’s campus that will benefit CAU, the Atlanta University Center, the City of Atlanta and the surrounding community,” according to the release.