Calling foul on College Park’s sale of a popular ballfield

(Courtesy City of College Park Government Facebook)

Credit: Courtesy City of College Park Government Facebook

Credit: Courtesy City of College Park Government Facebook

(Courtesy City of College Park Government Facebook)

On June 12, the College Park City Council and our Business and Industrial Development Authority (BIDA) authority sold Bill Evans Field to HJ Russell, DBA Creed Acquisitions, for pennies on the dollar — $1.5 million to be exact. The decision came after significant public scrutiny and with no real explanation as to why selling this public parkland would be beneficial to the residents that have enjoyed this ball field for more than 50 years.

The ball field is part of the Conley Recreation Center, which includes Bill Badgett Football Stadium and track, and a youth recreation center. The developer plans to build a residential housing complex right in the middle of our busy youth recreation center. Residents were given little explanation, and our questions mostly go unanswered. Letters and calls flooded the council, BIDA representatives and state leadership without adequate response to our expressed concerns.

Creed Acquisitions made several campaign contributions to more than one council member, as confirmed in an open records request. This prime city property was sold to Creed $5.74 a square foot — in our city center, across from City Hall and around the corner from Six West, which will be the largest mixed-use development in the area. The average cost for a residential lot in this area is $11.94.

Recently, residents learned that the city manager quashed a proposal from Morehouse College to renovate Bill Evans Field with a $2 million investment, which is more than they sold the field for. Residents were told that the sale of the field would generate more income than a ball field. If the Morehouse offer had been presented, would it have changed the council members’ minds? HBCUs Morehouse and Clark Atlanta use this facility, as do our youth baseball and flag football programs. Morehouse’s proposal included rehabilitating the field, partnering with a local youth baseball organization and making Bill Evans Field the home field for Morehouse and Clark Atlanta baseball.

Credit: handout

icon to expand image

Credit: handout

The official designation by the city establishes the baseball field as public land, therefore the Public Trust Doctrine applies prohibiting county governments from disposing of public park land after it is dedicated to the public. The city denies the doctrine applies. The Supreme Court of Georgia decided “acceptance by the public for public use is sufficient to complete the dedication without acceptance by the appropriate public authorities.” Residents also are questioning whether the council violated the Open Meetings Act. No vote on the sale of real estate is binding unless a vote is taken in an open meeting and the identity of the property and the terms of acquisition are disclosed before the vote.

The council did not ask the public if the sale of this baseball field was something the community wanted or agreed with. It did not discuss the transfer of this public parkland from the municipality (and hence the citizens) to BIDA with the intention of selling the field to replace it with a housing development. This action took place on Feb. 19, when the council was in closed session. The citizens of College Park were not informed nor consulted regarding changes altering the use for which the public space has been used and intended.

In addition to not informing citizens of the sale, the council also initiated a closed-door deal to establish a battery storage facility in our community. Residents from all over the city expressed that they did not want this — not once, but twice. It was voted down by the City Council in 2023. These facilities are dangerous and are being contested in cities across the country and all over the world. Fires burn for days and require specialized equipment to fight. This is right next to the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport. Next Era, the company building the battery storage facility, also made campaign contributions to council members, and actually offered $1.6 million to College Park as a “grant” with the stipulation that it get the zoning clearances needed to build. Is there a pattern here?

On June 17, residents from across the city again prepared to speak at the City Council meeting to ask that the sale of Bill Evans Field be reconsidered. Monday morning, a group of about 10 parents and their children, who live directly behind the field, had signed up to speak during public comments. They gave their names, but did not provide addresses or a reason for speaking, much like those who sign up every week. Monday afternoon, the city manager told residents who were there to sign up that the list required them to provide an address and topic if they were to speak. There does not appear to be an ordinance that states this, and it was not required in years past. It wasn’t required at the meeting two weeks ago.

These residents ultimately decided not to speak, telling others that they felt intimidated and that it was not worth them speaking out.

College Park is in trouble. Residents are concerned and feeling helpless. This council is reckless and not interested in the needs of the citizens. The mayor has been silenced again by the council. We have asked our state legislators for intervention, but all they say is that “they are aware and speaking to council.” This is encouraging, but residents need a voice. We want a meeting with our state delegation. They need to hear our concerns in person.

While this council has tried repeatedly to divide the residents of College Park, it has instead united a community. We have come together to form United College Park to ensure a brighter future in College Park. Together, this community is determined to increase transparency and accountability in our leadership. We seek a governing body that listens and works with citizens, not against them. We will stand together to bring change and unity to our community.

College Park is wonderful place to live. This diverse community is unlike any I have ever lived in. Residents care about one another and are determined to have the amenities and development in our city that is a good fit for all. We deserve more than a council willing to dismantle public recreation spaces to make a quick buck. Why was this specific parcel chosen? It serves our youth, Morehouse University and Clark Atlanta University. Imagine the visitors coming to our city as these two teams use Bill Evans for their home field. Imagine the inspiration for our youth as these teams play in our community. Our citizens deserve more. Our kids deserve more. We are counting on our state delegation to help us return College Park to the city we deserve, and not one taken hostage by self-serving council members.

Annemarie O’Bea is a resident of historic College Park and an active member of United College Park, a diverse group of citizens passionate about creating meaningful change within our community.