By Maria Saporta
Morris Brown College, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August, 2012, is shifting gears to try to keep operating.
It no longer is trying to package a development deal for the property it either owns or controls after at least two deals fell apart in the last year at the 11th hour.
On Thursday, lawyers for Morris Brown asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barbara Ellis-Monro for permission to hire the real estate firm of Jones Lang LaSalle to help it sell either some or all of the 36-acre property along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive just west of where the new Atlanta Falcons stadium is being built.
Morris Brown has asked Jones Lang LaSalle to retain a portion of the campus for its continued operations. The college, which lost its accreditation years ago, now just has about 35 students.
The AME Church, however, did invest $7 million late last year to buy out the interests of the largest bond holder in the college — Valstone Partners.
Before Jones Lang LaSalle can start marketing the property, legal motions will have to be filed. If there are no objections by March 21, the property can be put on the market on March 22, according to Morris Brown’s attorney, Anne Aaronson, a partner with Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia.
During Thursday’s hearing, attorneys representing Clark Atlanta University made a point to remind the judge and the people present that Morris does not own all the property free and clear.
About half of the property — 17 acres of the 36 acres — used to be owned by Clark Atlanta. The agreement was that if the property was no longer being used by an educational institution, it would revert back to Clark Atlanta’s land holdings.
“We just wanted to make sure people knew of our interests,” said David Wender, an attorney with Alston & Bird, which is representing Clark Atlanta. “We wanted to be clear that if anyone was interested in purchasing any property that they were aware of the limitations on that property.”
Now the question will be whether Morris Brown and Jones Lang LaSalle will seek to sell the property piece-by-piece or whether they will try to sell the 36-acre campus to an entity that will try to redevelop the entire area in a way that would complement the vision that community and civic leaders have had for the westside.
According to those involved in real estate development in the area, Morris Brown may have had an inflated view as to the value of the worth of its property and how much cash it could receive allowing the college to remain in business for years to come.
Morris Brown College President Stanley Pritchett said he was pleased with how the hearing proceeded on Thursday.
“We continue to move forward, and I think it’s positive,” Pritchett said. “We have been able to sustain ourselves for 133 years, and we are looking forward to be able to sustain ourselves for the next 133 years. Our expectation all along is that we would get a (development) proposal that would be supportive of the college and the community.”