City of Decatur To Purchase United Methodist Children’s Home Property for $40 Million

Two press releases back-to-back!  First from the City of Decatur…

At its April 17, 2017 meeting, the Decatur City Commission voted to purchase approximately 77 acres of property currently owned by the United Methodist Children’s Home of the North Georgia Conference, Inc. (UMCH) for $40 Million. The property is located adjacent to the southeastern city limits of Decatur.

Mayor Patti Garrett said, “The purchase of this property fits with the City’s mission, vision and values and is an investment for current and future families and children. Garrett noted, “The City of Decatur is uniquely positioned to be the trustee of this resource and the purchase provides a long-term legacy for generations to come.”

Proceeds of the sale will help UMCH reach more children and families in crisis in new communities across North Georgia, according to Rev. Hal Jones, UMCH President and CEO. The sale terms include preservation of the historic Moore Chapel and the gravesite of UMCH’s founder Rev. Dr. Jesse Boring and naming the administrative building located near the gravesite in recognition of former Executive Director Bev Cochran.

It is anticipated that the UMCH will vacate the property by late summer or early fall, 2017. Once the City owns the property, the City will annex the acreage and begin a community-based master planning effort engaging nearby neighborhoods, UMCH alumni and other stakeholders to help determine a vision and plan for future use.

And the United Methodist Children’s Home put out this press release…

Responding to the growing needs of the children and families it serves, on April  12 the Board of Trustees of The United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) agreed to sell the ministry’s 77 acre campus to the City of Decatur.

The Decatur City Commission approved the purchase at their April 17, 2017, Commission meeting held earlier this evening at Decatur City Hall. Proceeds of the sale – priced at $40 million – will help UMCH reach more children and families in crisis in new communities across North Georgia.

The sale terms include preservation of the historic Moore Chapel and the gravesite of UMCH’s founder Rev. Dr. Jesse Boring.

The sale also creates a preservation covenant honoring the unparalleled tenure of Bev Cochran, former CEO of UMCH, who led the ministry for 43 years, from 1968 to 2012. The City of Decatur and The Children’s Home agreed to name the existing administration building at 500 South Columbia Drive – which will remain in use by the City – in memory of Cochran, touching the lives of thousands of UMCH alumni, their children and grandchildren.

The City of Decatur will determine and announce its plans for the remainder of the property and its existing buildings and resources.

Rev. Hal Jones, The Children’s Home President and CEO, put the sale decision into perspective.

“Funds from the sale will help The United Methodist Children’s Home to greatly expand local, community-based ministries in towns and cities across North Georgia, in partnership with many more churches,” said Jones. “Since January, when the Board voted for approval of a sale, I continue to be energized by the decision which embraces the changing landscape in providing services to children and families while empowering UMCH to deliver on, and continuously improve, its important mission.

“We are grateful for the City of Decatur’s collaboration with us to preserve our historic Moore Chapel, which will offer our alumni, and others with strong ties to UMCH, a permanent place to celebrate and honor our history,” added Jones. “The determination of our UMCH Board, UMCH leadership team, and the City of Decatur leadership moved in harmony with voices of alumni, partners and neighbors, all of whom expressed commitment to preserving the great legacy symbolized by the Chapel.”

City of Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the City of Decatur is uniquely positioned to be the trustee of this resource and the purchase provides a long-term legacy for generations to come.

“The purchase of this property fits with the City’s mission, vision and values and is an investment for current and future families and children,” said Garrett. “The City of Decatur will conduct a community-based master planning effort for the future use of the property once the sale is final and the city has possession of the property.“

It is anticipated that the sale will be closed and final in the summer, with the UMCH vacating by late summer or early fall 2017.

UMCH currently houses approximately 80 individuals on campus who are a part of the Family Housing and Independent Living programs. UMCH is committed to providing uninterrupted services and continued support to its residents and will work with them on relocations based on individual needs. In general, current and future residents will move from group home cottages on the campus to more modern, safe and appropriate housing primarily in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

34 thoughts on “City of Decatur To Purchase United Methodist Children’s Home Property for $40 Million”

  1. Super. Now let someone purchase a free space which is even more central to downtown Decatur and perfect for a park – the property next to Ebster.

    1. My only concern with this purchase is that the city won’t be able to afford green space in other parts of the city which need parks–like downtown or the Northeast. In future meetings about green space, I’m sure we’ll hear how many total acres the city has and at what expense, and the fact that the bulk of it is in one corner of the city won’t matter.

      1. This is great news. This could be Decatur’s Piedmont Park. Not everyone in Atlanta lives near Piedmont Park, but could you imagine Atlanta without it?

      1. I assume Cannonball is referring to the parcel at the corner of Trinity and Commerce, which is for sale and intended to fund the DHA IIRC. It is next to Ebster Rec Center.

        1. I thought so too. I would love to hear more about what he/she had in mind, though that parcel is right by Ebster Park which has a multipurpose field, a playground, a basketball court, and a pool, and it’s next to the Ebster Rec Center and pretty close to Adair Park and even the Toy Park. I just don’t know about another park in that location, but again, would love to hear more.

          1. Right. That piece of land has certainly been mentioned in past by some that have argued for more green/park space near downtown. I don’t know if they have envisioned any redundancies in the possible uses for the space or have something specific in mind.

          2. The Toy Park (aka Round-and-Round Park) is a playground owned by First Christian Church, not a park, right? We are fortunate that the church allows the community to use if freely and maintains the site beautifully but it’s not a public park, I believe. If the church ever wanted to stop maintaining it or wanted it for another use, it could do so.

          3. I’m thinking about other great cities with “central parks” for adults and children. A place with lots of benches and maybe small space gardens for little groups to congregate. Maybe a corner with some sand and play structures for little ones. I hope we all grew up with a central park like this. The corner of Commerce and Trinity should become Decatur’s Central Park.

            1. I agree, Trish. Though Ebster is certainly a park, it should not preclude adding additional green space, especially given how highly visible and how much of an anchor this space would be for downtown. It would “connect” walkable space to Ebster.

    2. The part of Decatur near the Children’s home does not have a city park–just a school field. But one of the reasons Winnona Park has not been expanded into a mega-school has been because the field is the green space for the neighborhood. I hope the city’s purchase of Children’s home property does not change the school system’s mind in terms of building at WP.

  2. Not a resident but I am curious why Decatur, using tax monies, would buy this land without at least some plan in writing (preliminary ideas at least) before it buys it. Why would Decatur do that? As for UMCH, it’s disappointing to see it let go of this particular property. Nevertheless, it appears to be nearly a done deal and good luck to Decatur and UMCH.

    1. I am a resident and was wondering the same thing. What is this for and where is the money coming from?

      1. Where does the money come from, why directly or indirectly out of your pocket. Be it a bond or tax increase the tax payers of Decatur are paying for this land. Is it worth $40 M to you in an increase somewhere in your yearly payments to the City of Decatur? Government funding comes from the people if we agree to an investment it or not.

    2. The property was being marketed. I doubt there was a lot of time for plans and studies. It was a once in a multiple lifetime opportunity and I appreciate the fact that our elected representatives were bold enough to go for it. We will all pay for it – $345/year in taxes on $500K house I red somewhere (here?)

    3. If you’re looking for the specific directive as to why they’d do this, it’s Task 13E from the city’s 2010 Strategic Plan: “Acquire and expand greenspace holdings when opportunities and resources are available.” Since UMCH made the announcement they were selling, both political and public will have been strong for the acquisition to happen.

      I’ve seen mention that the general expectation at this point is to use the bulk of the property to address holes in the city’s parks and active living programs. Exactly how that’ll happen, as well as any other uses that might materialize, will be subject to a community planning effort that’ll flesh out the details.

  3. I only have a vague sense of the buildings — a gym and a 100-year-old chapel have been mentioned. It appears that there are at least a dozen. Is the expectation to keep all the buildings? Or some?

    1. I’m sure that will be discussed at community meetings. Some, like the administration building, might be useful. Others, like the residence cottages, not so much.

      1. That’s interesting you say that because the residence cottages are one of the things I’m most excited about. They’re solid old buildings in a very interesting campus-like arrangement and could easily be rehabbed and converted to, for instance, live/work studio space for artists, or community art/maker space, or one bedroom apartments with below market rent. Just to name a few. Adaptive reuse, yo!

        1. Scott – I love your idea of rehabbing and making use of the residences for live/work space for artists or for workforce housing for single person households! Brilliant. We have the opportunity to create a new kind of public realm on this property. I very much look forward to seeing all the creative ideas the citizens of Decatur can come up with.

        2. Love Scott’s idea too! p.s. Can the pool please have a diving board or at least a water slide or something? Risk aversion has left our City Pools devoid of any fun accoutrements. Maybe a snack stand…c’mon people! You only live once!

  4. Interesting that the city paid an implied premium of nearly 20% over appraised value. That seems kind of steep (appraised value was 34.5mn, with broker commission of 3%, implied premium Decatur paid v what UMCH would have received is about 6.5mn) Agree that high density building would def allow a builder to recoup money whether or not they paid appraised value or matched the $40mn that Decatur paid. At end of day, Decatur obtains some phenom green space to play with. I’m guessing that a number of buildings will have to be torn down due to age, cost of rehab and the like. Better to save the barn, some of the sort-of historic structures and get rid of rest. The city is not sitting on a surplus of funds – this is going to cost homeowners an additional several hundred dollars a year in property tax – not everyone who lives in Decatur cold afford to buy in Decatur these days, so while a few hundred dollars might not seem like a lot of extra tax on a $300k appraised house, it may be meaningful to those occupying such a house. Even if the city can monetize some of the activities on property (e.g. via fees for soccer field use, provided they renovate and maintain those fields) the sources of revenue will only be fraction of likely debt service on property.

    1. I am so happy to pay $350–I’ll sacrifice a take out meal every other month–for our very own Piedmont Park. It’s only going to help our property values anyway. So nice to have more than million dollar homes and good schools that make Decatur desirable.

  5. This is potentially great news! I hope as part of the master plan that we can maintain at least some of the habitat for the abundant and diverse wildlife currently living there. Great job Mayor, Commisioners, City officials and State legislators! A lot had to happen very quickly to facilitate this purchase. It could have gone so many other ways. I for one am grateful for the vision and hard work that made this happen. This is a signature accomplishment for The City.

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