September 28, 1998
Volume 51, No. 6
Ink finally dry on Emory West deal
Emory and the state of Georgia have completed the deal deeding the property of the former Georgia Mental Health Institute to the University.
The agreement to purchase, which had been announced in the local press some weeks ago, was closed Sept. 15 after an environmental impact study of the site was completed. The study, which is standard procedure in any sale of state-owned real estate of more than five acres, held no surprises, and the deal was allowed to go through.
But even though the University now officially owns what has the unofficial designation "Emory West," it will still be a while before any plans are finalized for how the 42-acre site is used. Emory West constitutes a major addition to Emory's land holdings, one with implications for decades to come, and the University is not rushing into anything, administrators said.
"What people have to recognize is that this is part of Emory's future," said Curt Carlson, associate vice president for public affairs. "We're talking about Emory's ability to impact the education of our children and grandchildren, so the planning will be done very deliberately, very carefully, with a lot of people looking at it from every possible angle."
Only two uses for the property have thus far been identified, and one of those is temporary. First, Emory West will serve as the site for the biotechnology development center Emory is launching in cooperation with Georgia Tech. This project, which was one of the state's conditions for the sale, has been long in the works and has secured the blessing of the Georgia Research Alliance, not to mention Gov. Zell Miller. Exactly how and where the center will be housed on the site has not been determined, but it will take up only part of the space available.
The other identified use for Emory West will be as a short-term solution to the main campus' parking problem during this academic year. A plan for a remote parking lot at the site (as described in the Aug. 24 issue of Emory Report) is set to go into effect Oct. 5, according to Bill Collier, director of parking. Anyone interested in parking free of charge at Emory West should contact the parking office at 404-727-PARK.
But other than those two uses and the continuation of some Emory psychiatry programs already located on the site, the utility of Emory West is still wide open. The University is studying whether the existing buildings on the property--which need quite a bit of work-are viable for renovation or if Emory will have to build new facilities. Whatever plans are made, Carlson emphasized, the concepts and ideals of the Campus Master Plan will also apply to this new addition.
Apart from ensuring a certain aesthetic standard for Emory West, this last point has made much easier the task of dealing with neighboring communities, which have been represented mostly through two groups: the Druid Hills Civic Association and the Briarwood Hills Civic Association. Betty Willis, director of community affairs, and Carlson have been in close contact with these two organizations, in part to assuage any concerns they may have, but mostly to simply inform them of Emory's intentions for its new property.
"First of all, the neighbors are absolutely delighted that Emory is going to be the new owner," Carlson said. "Our cooperation with the neighborhood associations in the master planning effort set a standard they are very happy with, and in general they think that control of the property by Emory is going to ensure that it is a beautiful environment."
Willis said most of the groups' questions center around environmental and safety issues: will Emory be cutting down many trees? Will Emory be building in the protected wetland in one corner of the property? Will the work at the biotech center pose any safety problems for the neighborhood? Willis said the answer to each of these questions is no.
"We're basically reassuring people that we're not going to be doing anything at Emory West that we're not already doing on the main campus," she said. "We certainly always will adhere to the same strict regulations and precautions we follow on campus."
One intriguing idea is the possible renovation of Candler Mansion, built and owned by Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler, which sits on the property. A once-magnificent piece of architecture, the mansion has fallen into some disrepair. Tearing down the structure will never be a possibility, but its renovation--which will be quite expensive--may take some time.
"There's going to have to be some kind of very special use for that building in order to justify the millions of dollars it will take to bring it up to historical standards," Carlson said. "We certainly envision a time when that mansion will be restored, but we have no funding, no timetable and no specific plans for it at this point."