Reed: Sale of Atlanta’s civic center scuttled

Texas developer Weingarten Realty was negotiating to buy the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center site from Invest Atlanta. The deal is now off, or at least stalled. J. Scott Trubey/STAFF

Credit: J. Scott Trubey/STAFF

Credit: J. Scott Trubey/STAFF

Texas developer Weingarten Realty was negotiating to buy the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center site from Invest Atlanta. The deal is now off, or at least stalled. J. Scott Trubey/STAFF

Negotiations to sell the Atlanta Civic Center to a development firm have been scratched after more than a year, Mayor Kasim Reed told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday, though an executive at the Texas-based firm said he hopes a deal can be salvaged.

The city announced a plan in September 2015 to sell the aging and money-losing arena to Houston-based Weingarten Realty for $30 million. Weingarten planned an ambitious mix of apartments, office space, green space and retail totaling about $300 million.

But Reed said talks are finished.

“We are not doing a deal with Weingarten,” Reed said in a brief interview. “That transaction is over. We couldn’t come to terms that were acceptable to the city. I felt the deal had dragged on and was unwilling to continue to engage in a negotiation. Either they wanted to purchase it or not. That’s where we ended up.”

Bill Coats, a Weingarten executive in Atlanta, said he was unaware the city considered the deal dead.

“We are continuing to work on it and we have some issues to overcome, but it is surprising to me that the mayor would say that,” Coats said.

“It is a very, very complicated transaction. I don’t think it has taken longer than similar deals,” he said, citing city-led efforts to sell Turner Field and Underground Atlanta.

The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center was marketed for sale as part of a roster of city properties the Reed administration hoped to sell to bring redevelopment and clean up the city’s balance sheet. At the time, City Hall hoped to issue bonds to tackle a backlog of infrastructure projects, and freeing the city’s balance sheet of burdensome properties was seen as one way of making space for debt service.

Reed said Wednesday the city’s financial house is in order amid an improved economy and budget reforms, and the city feels no pressure to sell the nearly 20-acre campus, which includes a 4,600-seat theater.

Still, a delay in selling the property would be a setback.

The city had hoped the site would fetch more than $30 million, and at the time the deal was announced, some people speculated that the nearby Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter held down the value of the property.

In early October, the Atlanta City Council gave Reed the go-ahead to begin negotiations to buy Peachtree-Pine, which he has said he wants to convert into a state-of-the-art police and fire facility. Reed has said he might use eminent doman to force the shelter operation out of the building if a deal isn't reached. Homeless advocates oppose shutting down the shelter.

Asked if Peachtree-Pine was an issue in civic center negotiations, Reed said time was the main factor in his decision not to extend negotiations.

“Our thinking is we will wait and see how the eminent domain proceedings go around Peachtree-Pine, which we think will influence that corridor and our thinking is we should probably wait until some of those issues are clarified and then bring it back to market,” he said.

Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens was unaware Reed had pulled the plug on the sale talks.

“If the mayor says it’s off, it’s off for a good reason,” said Dickens, who was not involved in the negotiations with Weingarten.

Dickens said he is confident a new developer could be found given real estate interest in Midtown and parts of downtown.

Any buyer should be ready to include affordable housing as part of their plans, he said. As rental and mortgage prices climb, city leaders increasingly want some units to be set aside for residents meeting the “area median income” or AMI.

“Anybody that is going to bid on this project, offering units meeting the AMI would be required,” Dickens said.