A divided council takes another step towards selling Civic Center

The Atlanta City Council has voted to transfer the Civic Center to Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, which will seek bids to develop the property.
Caption
The Atlanta City Council has voted to transfer the Civic Center to Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, which will seek bids to develop the property.

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

After hours of fervid discussion, a divided Atlanta City Council voted to move forward with Mayor Kasim Reed’s plans to sell the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center.

By a 10 to 4 vote, the council approved plans to transfer the property to Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency. Invest Atlanta will now seek bids to develop the 16-acre property in coming months.

Many councilmembers, including District 6 Councilman Alex Wan, sought to slow down the proposal, calling for the council to have a greater role in how the land will be sold and developed.

“It will effectively take city council out of the decision loop once we release it … into the wild,” said Wan, chair of the finance committee. “It will not allow us to prevent a project that may not be completely desirable by the community or by the city.”

But state procurement laws prevent elected officials from directly selling property to anyone but the highest bidder through a sealed bid process.

By transferring the property to Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency will set the conditions for sale — including the parameters of what could be developed there — and would get to select the new owners. The downside for the council under this scenario is that it would effectively cut it out of the deal.

The mayor’s office has said the time is right to shed the aging property, which is in dire need of expensive repairs. A 2012 city analysis projected the center would lose $400,000 per year through 2017.

While Reed’s administration hasn’t issued an official appraised value for the property, Wan said city officials anticipate at least $42 million on the sale.

Civic Center is one of several properties Reed seeks to shed from the city’s books and return to the tax rolls. Officials are already taking steps to sell Underground Atlanta. A number of groups, ranging from Georgia State University to sovereign wealth funds with ties to the casino industry, are lining up to buy Turner Field once the Atlanta Braves leave for Cobb County. The council also approved legislation Monday to sell a dilapidated city property on Alabama Street in downtown Atlanta.

District 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean said she was comfortable approving the Civic Center plans because the mayor’s office shared details about the bid proposal.

A request for proposal process allows for the city to set development goals and objectives, such as job creation and inclusion of greenspace elements, that incorporate community input, she said.

She successfully proposed an amendment to the legislation requiring Invest Atlanta to brief all councilmembers on the request for proposal guidelines before it’s issued to the public.

“You sell it to highest bidder and you (could) get a casino,” she said in a committee meeting Monday morning, referring to the sealed-bid process. “If it’s in a RFP, I thought that was more promising than selling it blindly.”

The Civic Center off Piedmont Avenue and Ralph McGill Boulevard was built in 1967 and its theater seats 4,600. It has played host to the Atlanta Opera and touring Broadway shows, and the campus was once home to the SciTrek museum. In recent years, the site has been popular as a filming location and is currently the set of “Family Feud.”

In addition to Wan, Post 1 At-Large Councilman Michael Bond, Post 3 At-Large Councilman Andre Dickens and District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore also voted against transferring the property. District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall, whose district includes Civic Center, sponsored the bill.