Bobby Jones Golf Course-Underground deal moves forward

A controversial property swap involving Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead, seen as critical to the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta, could go before the full Atlanta City Council for a vote June 6.

The council’s finance committee Wednesday forwarded to the council the proposed swap without a recommendation.

Under the proposal, the state would get the city-owned golf course, Bitsy Grant Tennis Center and Atlanta Memorial Park, while the city would acquire state property near Underground, including a parking deck that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said is needed for a developer’s planned overhaul of the downtown mall.

The state plans a new Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, renovations to make the 18-hole course a nine-hole facility and new practice grounds for Georgia State University and other state college and youth golf programs.

The deal has simmered for months and has caused heartburn for some residents in the neighborhoods around the course and park, said Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who represents the area. Critics contend shrinking the course to nine holes would hurt its financial viability. Others have feared the potential for commercial development on prime Buckhead land that borders the Atlanta Beltline.

Parking challenges have held up the Underground sale to South Carolina developer WRS.

WRS has attracted a grocer and expanded its plans for apartments on the site since the original deal was reached in late 2014, and the parking deck is needed to serve the needs of future retail and residential tenants, Reed said.

Reed said the city has agreed to a conservation easement pushed by Adrean to allay fears of future development, and the course will remain open to the public.

“The kind of investments the state will make in Bobby Jones are the kinds of investments the city does not have the financial capacity to make,” Reed said. The course is worth about $2 million more than the state land, Reed said, and WRS will make up the difference.

Reed said the city and state has a strong relationship and credited Gov. Nathan Deal, and the mayor said the city is grateful to Deal and state. Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, for a recent bill to allow for Atlanta residents to vote on a half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA.

Reed called Bobby Jones Golf Course project a priority for the governor.

The course along Peachtree Battle Creek is named after the Georgia golf legend and founder of the Masters golf tournament and Augusta National Golf Club. Jones was said to have had a hand in the Buckhead course’s design.

The Georgia State Golf Association, a representative of Jones’ family and Georgia State University golf coach Joe Inman were among the supporters of the project.

Backers said it largely aligns with plans several years ago to redevelop the park by its conservancy. The project, they said, would help grow youth golf and honor Jones and the state’s rich golf history.

Lake Brown, an opponent of the plan, said the state risks creating a financial albatross like Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Go Fish program in middle Georgia, which has failed to draw tourists as projected. He noted plans for a state Golf Hall of Fame in Augusta previously faltered.

“The state needs to watch out and not create another Go Fish, which has been a disaster,” Brown said.

City officials said state representatives and Reed will meet with community members about the proposals on June 3. District 8 Councilman Howard Shook credited Adrean for fighting for a better proposal, but said some were missing the opportunity in the deal — ending the city’s ownership of the money-losing Underground.

“I want to get rid of Underground so bad I can taste it,” he said.

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