Sandy Springs has made a technical change to the ownership of four city park properties in a way that it says allows “flexibility,” including bond funding of improvements and extended contracts for private operators.

The transfer to the city’s Public Facilities Authority affects Hammond Park, the Sandy Springs Tennis Center, Morgan Falls Overlook Park and the Abernathy Greenway Park.

Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said this is the beginning of a process that will eventually transfer ownership of more city parks.

The properties were owned by the city government already. The PFA is a separate entity that exists for purely legal reasons to manage public property. It consists of the same members as the mayor and City Council.

The PFA accepted the quitclaim, or the transfer of ownership, at a Jan. 7 meeting.

Currently, the PFA has responsibility for City Springs, the city’s civic and art complex where City Hall and the Performing Arts Center are located, as well as the south parking lot of the complex.

“We feel like the Public Facilities Authority is the proper entity to hold title to pretty much everything the city has,” Tolbert said at the meeting. “We’ve just never done it.”

With the ownership switch, the PFA can extend contracts involving the operations of parks instead of having to renew them each year.

Currently, the city has contracts with High Country Outfitters, which operates the Paddle Shack at Morgan Falls offering rentals of standup paddleboards and kayaks; Phoenix Gymnastics, LLC., which handles the gymnastics programming at Hammond; and the Tennis Center is operated by Groslimond Tennis Services, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said.

The city has had controversies with the Tennis Center operations contract over the years, with bidders complaining about the process and one losing bidder even threatening legal action.

Kraun said the switch also allows the PFA to receive money through bonds that can be used for design, construction and acquisition of public facilities.

“It would allow us to have more flexibility with them as we might contract for operations on them,” Tolbert said at the meeting. “And sets us up where we can expend funds in a better way and more efficiently.”

Although the city is limited by the Georgia Constitution to contractually commit to the spending of public funds beyond one year, the constitution does allow the city the right to enter agreements with the PFA for the performance of governmental services. Through such contracts, the city can make financial commitments for up to 40 years, according to a city memo.

Dunwoody made a similar change in 2017, with the PFA entering into a 40-year lease agreement with the Dunwoody Nature Center so that funds donated for improvements would remain under control of the center rather than the lease having to be renewed each year with the city.

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.