Buckhead Golf Mecca details start to emerge ahead of vote

Land swap said to be key to closing Underground Atlanta deal moves on, though state officials are noticeably absent from talks

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A few details are starting to emerge about state plans for a links Mecca costing at least $25 million to be built at Buckhead’s Bobby Jones golf course. The project is pending a swap of that property for a Downtown parking deck that Atlanta says is the lynchpin on a deal to redevelop Underground.

The pair of transactions are up for a vote by the Atlanta City Council on Monday,

Mayor Kasim Reed appeared in front of a crowd of perhaps 200 people at E. Rivers Elementary in Buckhead to explain that he thinks it’s a good deal for Atlanta. He said the state can put more money into the complex — according to Reed, the state is planning to spend  at least $25 million — than the city ever would. Reed has also previously said that the state parking deck the city would get in the deal could seal a sale of Underground Atlanta.

The state’s plan is to change the 18-hole course into a 9-hole reversible course with a driving range, said Reed. Joe Inman, a lifelong golfer who’s now coach of the Georgia State University men’s golf team said the place would be his duffers’ practice course, but it would be more than that.

“We want to make this a great facility,” Inman said. He said the golf course will be fun to play and the price for the public will be in the same price range as it is now. Inman also said organizations like PGA Georgia and the Atlanta Junior Golf Association will make their headquarters there. He also said management-wise, the state will own the land but a nonprofit will run the facility using both public and private money.

Reed said state plans only involve the golf course and tennis center, not Memorial Park. But state confirmation was not immediately available about whether the course and building drawings presented at the meeting are subject to change or how the property will be run or how much public money will be spent. Reed has credited Gov. Nathan Deal with supporting the transaction.

Deal spokeswoman Jen Ryan declined to comment on what she called a “city matter regarding pending legislation” and referred questions to Reed.

At the meeting, Reed also said the deal would involve Georgia’s State Properties Commission, the body that oversees the state’s real-estate portfolio. That office’s executive director, Steven Stancil, was not available for comment when CL called on Friday afternoon.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who represents the area, said she was not part of negations with the state and could not speak to its plans.

“I wish they would have come because I view this as ... it could have been the beginning of relationship-building with the community,” she said. “My understanding is that under the Memorial Park Conservancy a master plan was drawn up for Bobby Jones, and it was presented to the city, and the city didn’t act on it and some individuals brought the concept to the state and the state decided that they liked it and wanted to implement it.”

Adrean said it’s also her understanding that partners, such as Georgia State, would run programs at Bobby Jones, the same way groups like the Northside Youth Organization run programs at Chastain Park. NYO, she said, raises its own money and has put millions into Chastain. She emphasized that all that is her understanding, but that she does not speak for the state.

Reed said an individual from the state had been invited to speak but the representative “had a conflict. I did not want someone else who didn’t have the authority to address this crowd in a serious manner to come here, with some B-level player with no authority. That’s the call we made.”

Plenty of golfers are disappointed with what the state is apparently planning, particularly the proposal to cut the 18-hole course down to nine holes. 

“As a longtime golfer I just have to have 18 holes, I’m not going to play 9 holes and go back over the same areas again. It’s not a lot of fun,” said Jack Seibert, who carried a sign reading “KEEP Bobby Jones 18 holes.”

He said he’s seen the city lose golf at Piedmont Park and at Fort McPherson.

“I feel like the city should be reaching out to provide more amenities, not reducing the amenities that we have,” Seibert said.

Though there were some happy audience members. Eli Green said he lives on Woodward Way and supports the transaction because it will free up city dollars to take care of other things.