Brookhaven City Council on Sept. 8 approved the city’s first bond issuance to buy a Skyland Drive building that could become a permanent City Hall or the new Brookhaven Innovation Academy, among other possibilities.

The bond-based purchase of the state-owned building at 2600 Skyland Drive is still contingent on a full financial review. If city staffers don’t like what they see, they can pull the plug before the Nov. 1 deal date.

“I like the deal,” said Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams during a City Council work session discussion. “I’d hate for us to pass up this opportunity.”

The state wants about $2.8 million for the 44,000-square-foot building and its 5-acre parcel. City Manager Marie Garrett said the city’s appraisal was slightly lower, but “the state is not willing to negotiate” the price.

The city would issue up to $2.9 million in revenue bonds to make the purchase through the city Development Authority. The state would continue to lease the building—currently used for offices and vital records storage, among other things—for two years for at least $223,000 per year, which is expected to cover the interest payments on the bond debt.

The deal has some complexity. The Development Authority would issue city-guaranteed bonds for the purchase and lease the property to some nonprofit entity, which in turn could sublease to the state. That nonprofit could be a school or some other organization, possibly including a New York State nonprofit that often facilitates city property purchases.

City staff said they have had preliminary discussions with a couple of area schools about serving as the go-between, but the new BIA is not among them.

The council rejected other purchasing methods on the advice of its bond-specialist attorney, Earle Taylor. One was a general obligation bond, which would have required a voter referendum. Another was creating a city Urban Redevelopment Agency to issue the bonds, but that would require declaring the building blighted, and the bonds would have been limited to the city’s millage rate, unlike Development Authority-issued versions. A straight cash purchase was another option.

The building, a former school, is reportedly in good shape, with a three-year-old roof and recently replaced windows. One major expense for the city would be installing a sprinkler system, and inspectors found asbestos in one room, according to Garrett.

“I wish our schools looked as pristine and beautiful and well-kept,” said Williams, who previously joined council members on a tour of the building.

If the purchase happens, the city will have to decide what use to prioritize. Williams repeatedly referred to the need for a new City Hall. The current City Hall on Peachtree Road is leased, and a feasibility study for a new facility is underway.

Garrett said the Skyland building has the capacity to house a new City Hall along with headquarters for the police and parks departments.

City Councilmen Joe Gebbia and Bates Mattison are board members of the new BIA school, which needs a home. City attorneys advised that there is no conflict of interest at this point for Gebbia and Mattison to discuss and vote on the Skyland building deal.
However, Mattison chose to recuse himself from all discussion and voting anyway, saying he had promised to do so earlier to avoid even an appearance of ethical conflicts.

Councilman John Park emphasized the importance of maintaining a public, civic use on the site, saying local residents would be “very uncomfortable” with anything else.

Park also noted that the property’s open space is next door to Skyland Park and is virtually part of it, making another asset neighbors don’t want to lose.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.