Underground Atlanta sale enabled by golf course swap; continues sale of city assets
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council voted Monday for a plan that enables the sale of Underground Atlanta to a developer. The plan calls for the city to deed over to the state of Georgia the Bobby Jones Golf Course.
In exchange, the state will deed over to Atlanta a parking structure near Underground Atlanta.
This land swap will enable Atlanta to comply with terms of the purchase agreement for WRS, Inc. to purchase Underground Atlanta for $26.75 million. WRS set out terms that required parking in addition to the two decks at Underground. In turn, WRS has announced plans to invest up to $300 million to build apartments and retail at the site of the city’s struggling attraction.
The pending transaction continues the trend under Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to dispose of non-essential city assets. A blue ribbon panel convened by Reed called for selling assets and raising revenues to create a long-term approach to balance the city’s budget.
The council’s vote was 12-3 in favor of disposing of the golf course. The three dissenting votes were cast by:
- Councilmember Yolanda Adrean, who represents the area and who helped negotiate the transfer of the golf course;
- Councilmember Felicia Moore, who represents an adjacent district and who made an unsuccessful motion to return the legislation for further review by the council’s Finance Committee;
- Councilmember Mary Norwood, who is elected citywide and raised issues including the notion that other options included a long-term ground lease to the state for the golf course, and creating a conservancy to maintain the property.
Speaking after the vote, Adrean said she voted against the legislation in order to send a message to state officials.
“My vote is not a reflection of the working relations on this transaction,” Adrean said. “It’s a message to the state: ‘You’ve made a lot of promises through surrogates.’ And I’m usually an optimist, but I can’t vote based on optimistic feelings. So my negative vote is a message to the state: ‘This is on you now to deliver to the citizens of Atlanta all the things you’ve promised.’”
Councilmember Alex Wan, who chairs the Finance Committee, paused after Adrean’s comments to address her diligence on the matter. Adrean is not a party to the legislation. It was submitted by Councilmember Kwanza Hall, who represents the council district that includes Underground Atlanta.
“I hope you fully appreciate all the work Councilmember Adrean has done on your behalf,” Wan said to the audience. “This was an impossible situation. Very, very difficult. She stuck with it. She put pressure on the state that no one else could. It’s now up to us, in the public, to follow that. The work continues from this point on.”
Wan raised the issue of the challenges the swap presented. Any resistance was an uphill battle given that the transaction had support from:
- Gov. Nathan Deal: Although Deal may not have made a public comment on the transaction, the governor chairs the board of directors that oversees the Georgia Building Authority, which is party to both transactions;
- Mayor Kasim Reed: Reed spent two hours at a public meeting June 3 to talk to residents about the proposed swap; he began advocating for the swap long before the legislation was filed last month.
Councilmember Andre Dickens weighed in on behalf of Reed’s administration.
During the council’s discussion, Dickens submitted an amendment that may have represented an effort by the Georgia Building Authority to sweeten the deal. The amendment extended the lease terms for the Bitsy Grant tennis facility from 20 years to 50 years.
“The mayor just brought to attention that in the ongoing negotiations they have added … a lease term for Bitsy Grant, that is now extended from 20 to 50 years,” Dickens said. “That is an additional benefit.”