Brookhaven, GA, December 17, 2015 – Letter to the Editor, by John Park, Brookhaven City Councilman, District 2 – There have been questions about the recent decision by the city to guarantee the purchase of the property at 2600 Skyland Dr (Skyland Center) by the Brookhaven Development Authority. It is 5.3 acres with a 43,000 sq ft building that is currently the state vital records office, and it is appraised at $2.7 million. At one point Skyland Elementary consisted of this property and Skyland Park. It was sub-divided and repurposed.
The city has guaranteed a debt issue of $3.3 million which includes the cost of some renovations and debt service. City staff and the development authority are confident that whatever the use, whether it be leasing to a school (or another public entity) or taking it over as City Hall, would be sound fiscally and the city would not have to cover any shortages. After careful consideration, I am convinced this will be the case.
For 2016, we are guaranteed about $100,000 in rent revenue, but as structured, our debt payment would be about $46,000. Moving forward we could reasonably expect $300,000 plus in rent revenue while paying about $260,000 annually. If the city were to move City Hall there, we would realize substantial savings from the $330,000 we currently pay for about half the 43,000 square feet available at Skyland, and the rest could be used for park programming or the Municipal Court. We currently pay $12 per square foot at City hall ($9 for the basement). We would need to collect just over $6 per square feet at Skyland to cover the cost.
About 2 acres of the lot is contiguous to the park and is currently un-used. A private swim club has approached the city. They would pay fair market value and the city would be able to substantially reduce its debt burden, while providing an opportunity for something that does not exist in Ashford Park. Or the land could be reclaimed for park use (as proposed in the Skyland Park master plan), and Skyland Park could be bigger with better amenities. The city would engage the public to decide as a community how we want to proceed.
Some readers have asserted that real-estate speculation is not a proper function of the city. Normally, I would agree. My reason for supporting this is simple. Only by acquiring the property, can we maintain it for public use. Whether it be a school, park facilities, or another function for the public’s benefit, the building and land would contribute to the health and welfare of our neighborhoods through balanced land use and lower density. The alternative would be for the state to bid out the property, and we could expect single family homes at best or apartments at worst.
The original intent of purchasing this property was to be the home of the Brookhaven Innovation Academy. Some speculated that the BIA would pay less than fair market value, effectively being subsidized by the city. Council Member Gebbia, Mayor-Elect John Ernst, and I have committed publicly to implementing whatever policy between the city and the development authority to insure that whoever rents the property would have to pay a fair market rate not subsidized by the city.
Once the debt service is complete in 18 years, the property would revert to the city. It would be a long-term asset owned by the public.
There are risks. A serious economic downturn could hamper the city financially. I had considerable trepidation on committing the city to this much potential debt without a referendum (which would have been my preference). However, at this point it’s go or no go, and if we don’t commit now, it will go out to public bid, before we can call a referendum.
After weighing the risk and potential public benefit, I chose to support this initiative. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. My cell number is 404-822-7059. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.