Monday, February 2, 2009

UGA, MCG, & O'Mally's

This post is mostly for Winfield J. Abbe. Though I neither know him personally nor agree with all of his positions – though I frequently do – I consider Abbe to be a kindred spirit. He habitually asks impertinent, though legitimate, questions of local government (as do I) and frequently is unimpressed with what answers he may or may not receive (as am I).

Just to get readers up to speed, the US Navy Supply Corp School, located in Athens for decades, is relocating to Rhode Island in the not-so-distant future. The property it is vacating in the Normaltown (Prince Avenue) area will be transferred to the University of Georgia. As you may have read in the news, UGA and the Medical College of Georgia are teaming up to open a new medical school campus there (though the political infighting continues). As an interim step, the UGA Real Estate Foundation purchased the former O’Mally’s nightclub property as a temporary site for its medical school activities. The plan is for the UGA/MCG partnership to occupy the O’Mally’s property in June of this year, with classes to begin in the fall of 2010. In 2011 (or so) when the NSCS leaves, the UGA/MCG medical program will move to Normaltown (some elements may move sooner as space is freed up by the Navy).
As the medical school relocates to Normaltown, other UGA offices will move into the O’Mally’s location.

Mr. Abbe has commented on the purchase of the O’Mally’s property by the Real Estate Foundation (to which I would link, but I cannot recall were I read Abbe’s comments at the moment; also, other businesses have occupied the site since the club closed its doors year ago, but the location is still universally know as “O’Mally’s”). He points out that the 2008 value of the property as determined by the Clarke County Tax Assessor’s office was $4,144,686, while the price paid for the property by the Real Estate Foundation last February was $7,278,600, which works out to some 75.6% more that the assessed value. I looked the property up on the Tax Assessor’s web site and verified Abbe’s information for myself. Readers can do so as well; the property’s parcel number is 171D2 G002.

I sit on the Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County (see below), a body specifically created to act as a conduit for bonds issued by UGA’s Real Estate Foundation and Athletic Association (though it can and has done much more than that), The Authority met late last week to consider a supplemental bond resolution concerning the construction and renovation costs for the O’Mally’s project – for what it is worth, the Authority’s meetings are open to the public and are advertised beforehand in the Banner-Herald.

In direct response my first question, the representative from the Real Estate Foundation indicated that it would soon be applying for a property tax exemption. Of course, this is to be expected, though I took the opportunity to note
that there is a tipping point regarding how much land government takes off of the property tax digest (for those who do not know, Clarke County is the smallest in the state by area - I read somewhere that it is the third smallest in the nation - and a huge portion of it is not even on the property tax rolls. In response to my other question, I was told that the large discrepancy between the property’s assessed value and the purchase price had to do with the Foundation’s research on the market values of recent land sales in the area, which it tracks closely. I have no reason to doubt the claim, though I similarly observed that tax officials in Clarke County were not noted for low-balling their assessments of property values.

Even so, I voted for the bonds because I think that, in the long run, this is the kind of development that the community desperately needs, having missed out on several such opportunities in the recent past, and that the positive economic impact will outweigh any lost property tax revenue. Those so inclined can click here to review the various local authorities, development and otherwise, and here to read up on the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Foundation.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure I must confess that in my former life as an undergrad, I spent my share of sunny afternoons on the O’Mally’s deck, gazing out over the North Oconee and indulging in various and sundry libations (anyone else out there remember when the Mad Hatter would host Camel Night?).

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