A group seeking to transform the former Bobby Jones Golf Course clubhouse into a chamber music recital and teaching hall has hit a city-required fundraising target, and a formal agreement is in the works.
Alex Simmons, a Buckhead resident leading the initiative, said he has received commitments from neighborhood residents and organizations to donate a total of $1 million to the project, the threshold needed to be met before the group could begin negotiating with the city.
“We have those verbal commitments and we are very excited,” Simmons said.
The $1 million number wasn’t tied to a budget needed to operate or build the recital hall, but was used simply to show the project had financial backing and community support.
The clubhouse, located at 384 Woodward Way in Atlanta Memorial Park, is now vacant because the golf course operator is building a new clubhouse amidst larger renovations of the course.
Simmons, an attorney who is leading the effort, is working with other Buckhead residents, lawyers and Perkins+Will architect Allen Post and members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, acting independently from that organization, to bring forth a plan that would demolish walls on the main level of the clubhouse to build a stage and expand seating, build a bar and create several rooms to host private music lessons.
Now that backers of the recital hall have reached the fundraising threshold required in a city ordinance passed in September, Simmons is working with lawyers to draft a memorandum of understanding for the project.
An ordinance that would allow the city to lease the clubhouse to the group went before the Atlanta City Council Dec. 4, but District 8 Councilmember Yolanda Adrean, who drafted the ordinance, said she asked that it be deferred because the memorandum of understanding was not ready to be presented.
Simmons said he is hopeful the document will be ready by January and the ordinance can be passed then.
A new District 8 councilmember, J.P. Matzigkeit, will be sworn in January as Adrean decided not to run for re-election. Matzigkeit said he also supports the current recital hall plan.
Simmons declined to name the people who have committed to donate because there are only verbal agreements and not actual donations.
“It includes neighbors and people in the arts community. Certainly everybody who has contributed is supportive of the arts community,” he said.
He said that art patrons around the city have “rallied around this idea.”
Vanya Foote, the executive director of the Atlanta Chamber Players, said her group supports the preliminary plans and would be interested in using the space. The ACP toured the facility in December and were shown the plans for the proposed recital hall, she said.
“Though the designs are still preliminary, we are excited at the prospect, and yes, we would definitely be interested in using it if it moves forward as it’s being planned,” Foote said in an email.
It can be challenging at times for her group to find venues to perform in Atlanta, and they would appreciate another option, she said. The ACP often holds concerts in various churches around metro Atlanta and at the Shakespeare Tavern in Downtown Atlanta, according to their website.
“For an ensemble like ours that performs throughout metro Atlanta, finding venues can be a challenge. It will be nice to have another option, and one that could potentially be very well-suited to chamber music,” she said.
Underlying the plan is a concern that the historic clubhouse could be demolished as it loses its current golf uses. The formerly city-owned golf course was transferred to the state in a 2016 land swap and is undergoing its own renovation. A new clubhouse is being built as part of the renovation, so the state had no use for the existing clubhouse, and it is now leased to the city.
The golf operator moved out of the clubhouse in early November, so it is now vacant. That led some to fear that the clubhouse would be demolished.
Simmons saw an opportunity to ensure the building had a tenant and create a new recital hall in Atlanta, which he believes is needed.
“The question came up about what would happen to the building when the golf operator moves out. It was one of those things that just clicked,” he said.
No other uses for the clubhouse have been proposed, and the city said it did not issue a request for proposals to solicit bids for other uses.
“If [the Department of Public Works] had planned improvements for any park asset, we would use one of our procurement methods — existing citywide contracts or bid,” said Anne Torres, a city of Atlanta spokesperson.
“In this case, a community group has engaged DPR with a proposal to raise philanthropic funds to help renovate. We are considering a MOU that memorializes roles and responsibilities similar to our MOU with Piedmont Park Conservancy to raise funds and provide for capital improvements,” Torres said.
Simmons said no studies on how much it would cost to renovate the building or operate the recital hall have been done. Proponents of the project also don’t have detailed drawings or plans yet, only a rendering that was presented at an October public meeting.
New plans will be drawn up after the memorandum of understanding is in place, but he doesn’t have a specific timeline yet, he said.