$1 golf gardens sale called unlikely

State still paying on $6 million deal

ATLANTA --- Augusta isn't likely to get the defunct Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property for only $1, says the chairman of a key Senate committee.

Augusta Sen. Hardie Davis introduced legislation shortly after winning a special election to complete the balance of Ed Tarver's Senate term.

Davis' bill, similar to one Tarver had introduced last year before his nomination to become U.S. attorney, would formally close the Hall of Fame and transfer the land to the city for one buck.

But Davis isn't likely to have better luck than Tarver.

Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, is chairman of the Senate Committee on State Institutions and Properties, which will evaluate the legislation. He said Davis' proposal is flawed.

"I'm going to have to disagree with him on this bill," Grant said. "One of my jobs as a senator is to look after the fiduciary interests of the whole state. I just cannot see how we, in good financial responsibility, can approve that bill."

Some Augusta civic leaders, including Mayor Deke Copenhaver, want the property to become the new home of the Augusta GreenJackets minor-league baseball team. They argue bringing fans downtown will help pump customers into businesses and life into the riverfront area.

Davis isn't sure a stadium is the best use the public could make of the land, given the current economy and state budget shortfall. He wants to let voters decide on the best public use, as they did on the trade, exhibit and event center.

"In the current climate with a $1.5 billion shortfall and declining revenues on the local level as well, a baseball stadium is not wise," he said.

Davis said he wants to get local control of the land the state has held for 15 years and recently let degenerate into an eyesore.

Other advocates see the transfer as an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to develop commercial businesses like those that sold the land to the state a decade ago for the gardens and museum, which were supposed to lure fans of the Masters Tournament.

But Davis' $1 bid is far from the market value. Current values might be less than the original price, Grant conceded, but they're more than $1.

The state bought the land for $6 million and still owes $2.8 million on bonds used to finance it.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's legal advisers warned him that the state constitution prohibits giveaways of state assets, which would require the full, current value, said Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley.

What about the value of the land Augusta recently gave the state for expansion of the Medical College of Georgia?

"A previous transaction can't be considered," Brantley said.

Perdue has been in discussions with Copenhaver, Brantley said.

"I think the governor senses the mayor's excitement. I think it's just a matter of figuring out the right legal process," he said.