Morris Brown College sold some land it didn’t own to the City of Atlanta, which has plenty of attorneys and civic analysts who are paid to know better about purchasing such land. But six years, countless court hours and $14 million dollars later, Clark Atlanta University reclaims its land, Morris Brown appears to be absolved from paying back any money, and the City of Atlanta is out of about 13 acres of the 30 it purchased from the embattled MBC campus.
And that’s the story of how two HBCUs and an esteemed HBCU graduate pulled off one of the slickest public infusions of cash to a private institution in HBCU history.
From the beginning, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed knew he would have no claim to the acreage Morris Brown tried to clear through its debt-servicing yard sale, land that he publicly hoped to develop in partnership with Friendship Baptist Church as a prohibitive effort to block commercial development from Family Dollar in 2013, which courted MBC with a deal to pay off $20 million of its $35 million debts.
The Family Dollar offer and resulting bidding war between the company and the City of Atlanta bought Morris Brown more time with bankruptcy court proceedings, which in 2015 ended up with the school avoiding outright seizure from the US Bankruptcy Court and led to the joint land purchase deal with Friendship and Invest Atlanta, the city’s real estate development arm.
Clark Atlanta challenged the legitimacy of the sale, citing a decades-old agreement with the school which lent the land to Morris Brown on the condition that it be used for academic purposes for as long as the school was using the property. Every level of court review following the sale and resulting suit from CAU affirmed that Invest Atlanta had no claim to the land – which if we go back to the parameters of the actual land transaction, never impacted any of the land sold to Friendship – just the acreage reserved for Invest Atlanta.
Reed, a Howard University graduate and an emeritus member of the HU Board of Trustees, successfully stopped Family Dollar from invading an underdeveloped area of metropolitan Atlanta, kept priceless land for use between Clark Atlanta and Morris Brown, helped secure additional land for one of Atlanta’s historic black churches, (which by the way has a rich historic connection to Morehouse and Spelman Colleges), and put $14 million in Morris Brown’s coffers.
Given the history of economic impact Morris Brown has delivered for Atlanta, and the richness of the city’s academic, business and social communities seasoned by MBC and the Atlanta University Center schools over generations, $14 million should be the least of the city’s concerns. Southern hip-hop exists because of Atlanta’s HBCUs. Atlanta’s black political and corporate constructs exist because of Atlanta’s HBCUs.
Some folks in Atlanta may want to call Reed 98 names to describe the perceived futility of the deal and the cost burden it put on Atlanta taxpayers. Two of those names, on this issue, will never be ‘stupid’ or ‘sellout.’
Cue the fountain scene.