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Decatur City Commission approves plan to turn Legacy Park over to nonprofit

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Decatur City Commission approves plan to turn Legacy Park over to nonprofit

The former United Methodist Children's Home campus in Decatur. The campus is now called Legacy Park. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
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The Decatur City Commission on Dec. 2 voted to approve a letter of intent that will ultimately put a nonprofit in charge of managing the former United Methodist Children’s Home property, now called Legacy Park.

At the Dec. 2 meeting, Mayor Patti Garrett and Pro Tem Tony Powers abstained from voting on the letter of intent because they also serve on the nonprofit, called the Decatur Legacy Project. Garrett and Powers said they didn’t have to recuse themselves for the discussion about the letter of intent, the mayor said.

The three other commissioners — Kelly Walsh, Scott Drake and Brian Smith — unanimously approved the letter of intent from the Legacy Project, which paves the way for a formal agreement that will be hammered out over the next four months.

City Manager Andrea Arnold, who is also a member of the Legacy Project, said that the next four months will give the city time to address any concerns about the plan.

“If there are any issues or concerns, we would have now until the middle of April to address that,” Arnold said.

No one spoke against the proposal during public comments at the Dec. 2 meeting. Nonprofits managing a large park isn’t a new phenomenon. The Piedmont Park Conservancy is in charge of Piedmont Park in Atlanta, for example. Being a nonprofit would offer opportunities for foundation grants and funding. According to the master plan for the property approved by the City Commission, the city will need nonprofit partners to implement the plan.

Powers compared the organization to another community nonprofit.

“This is not something not unlike the Decatur Education Foundation,” he said. “Over three to four years, the foundation grew independent of the school system and was able to hire an executive director and fund all the needs. I see it being a parallel path here. It’s the city having skin in the game as well, as far as I see it.”

Powers asked if the city would have the “bandwidth” to manage the old UMCH property without a nonprofit taking it over.

Arnold said the Plan B would be costly.

“I would anticipate that what you would see in the budget recommendation, there would be a Plan B that would entail additional staff and the need for contractual services at least to operate the property,” Arnold said. “There would be the need to add someone on staff to address the implementation of the plan. That’s not something I would feel comfortable with, with the resources we have today.”

The property has already been costly for the city.

The city in 2017 paid a steep price for the 77-acre UMCH campus, spending $40 million to acquire it. Developing the former orphanage will be arduous and expensive.

Under the terms of the proposal from the Legacy Project, the nonprofit would manage the ongoing operations of the campus and the implementation of the park’s master plan. The city of Decatur would give the Legacy Project money for part-time program management, a receptionist/administrative assistant and professional services as needed in an amount that would not exceed an amount set during the city’s budgeting process. The amount paid by the city would be “offset” by “rental fees and other revenue generated at the property,” according to the letter of intent from the Legacy Project. The city’s current budget contains $164,720 to support operations at Legacy Park.

The Legacy Project began in 2014, well before the city bought the UMCH campus. Former assistant city manager Lyn Menne was the original incorporator of the Decatur Legacy Project. “Our original idea behind it was to have a vehicle for a committee of citizens to plan the 200th birthday celebration for the city of Decatur in 2023,” Menne said.

Menne said in September that current Legacy Project board members are Mayor Garrett, Mayor Pro Tem Powers and City Manager Arnold, who serve serve by virtue of their positions with the city. Former city manager Peggy Merriss was named to the board for one year as Arnold’s appointee.

“The three at large members are residents Meredith Struby, currently chair of the Public Facilities Authority, Allen Mast, manager of private foundations funds for SunTrust Bank, and Ed Bowen, a real estate attorney with background in public-private partnerships,” Menne said.

As part of its arrangement with Decatur, the Legacy Project will add two new board members. Commissioner Walsh said this would help the city with its education and outreach efforts about the plan to turn management of the property over to the nonprofit.

Arnold said the city would issue a call for new board members in January.

Walsh also asked about the Legacy Project’s 990 tax filings.

When Decaturish asked for the nonprofit group’s 990 tax filings, Menne said, “Until this year, the board did not have assets in excess of $50,000 so was only required to submit the 990 post card form.” Menne explained that Legacy Park also managed funds for other organizations in the city that didn’t want to create their own nonprofits, like the Season of Giving Project, the Friends of the Decatur Cemetery, and a fundraising effort by the Friends of the Oakhurst Dog Park.

The tax forms aren’t currently online, but that will change, Arnold said.

“I can’t explain to anybody why the IRS has not posted that on the website, however I will be glad to retrieve a copy of what has been submitted to the IRS and make that available,” Arnold said.

Arnold said the nonprofit is not well known, but that will change, too.

“This is a relatively unknown entity outside of a few small circles and one thing that’s exciting that the board has been working on and hasn’t launched is a communications campaign,” Arnold said. “So, we are working on the launch of the website. On the website is a series of videos and stories … The Legacy Project is using it as a platform to tell its story. At the beginning of the year, when we make the call for additional members, you’ve got this website and story ready to go.”

Walsh suggested that the website should include a countdown clock to Decatur’s 200th anniversary.

Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the Dec. 2 City Commission meeting. 

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