ALBANY, Ga. -- Quail Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation organization known for its dedication to the management of America's wild quail, will be embracing its own new habitat in Southwest Georgia soon.
According to Quail Unlimited (QU) officials, Albany is set to become the new national headquarters of the organization, which has long-resided in Edgefield, S.C. since 1981.
"I'm very emotional about it," said QU President Bill Bowles, a native of Albany. "A lot of people have told me that QU is coming home and that we are bringing the organization to where the quail are."
Bowles said the first discussions with Phoebe and top Albany officials began in late summer and that the "conversations just went from there."
"Our county and city officials obviously had some conversations and then my phone rang with the question, 'What if there was an opportunity to relocate the national office to Albany?'"
To accommodate the move, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's Phoebe Foundation has donated eight acres of land at its historic Potter Community Center property off Wildfair Road. While a one-story building is constructed, Bowles said, Phoebe officials have been "gracious enough to temporarily let us use an office building close to the hospital for two years."
Phoebe CEO and President Joel Wernick said the Potter Community Center was the first gift given to the Phoebe Foundation in 1989 and that QU and the property were made for one another.
"Potter's is a location that was assembled by multiple plantation owners as a gathering place to hunt quail and other community activities," Wernick said. "Potter's was a gift to us that was born from the passion of hunting, and specifically quail hunting, of its founders. Leasing it to Quail Unlimited just made sense -- it is equal parts tradition and common sense."
Wernick said he was first approached by Albany Mayor Willie Adams about bringing Quail Unlimited's national headquarters to the Good Life City after the mayor learned of the organization's need for a new home.
"This is what I call a home run," said Adams. "We are the quail capital of this area. We are ... overly excited about this and we want to thank the leadership of Quail Unlimited and Phoebe Putney for making this happen. It will bring attention to the area and possibly more jobs if people like our area and city."
Bowles, who was named QU's president in November 2009, said the economic impact of bringing QU's national office to Albany will be felt.
"The economic impact of bringing the organization's sporting clay tournament and dog trials to Albany as well as the exposure for corporate guests and VIPs will be very valuable to the city," he said.
Wernick, who grew up quail hunting in Fort Smith, Ark., said Phoebe is "always interested in developing the economy of Albany and Dougherty County" and that assisting another nonprofit organization is in a tradition of Phoebe reaching out to the community.
Because Phoebe already donates some of its property to Habitat for Humanity, the Boys & Girls Club, Boys Scouts of America and the Dougherty County School System, Wernick said it was "easy" to give land to Quail Unlimited.
Bowles said the relocation of the organization came to fruition after it sold the property of its former national headquarters in South Carolina, which was after the organization withstood financial struggles in 2008 and 2009 that nearly decimated it.
"The organization was at a point in history when it needed to make corrections in order to survive," explained the president of the organization that boasts almost 29,000 members nationally. "The office building in Edgefield is 12,000 square feet and it is not necessary for us to have a building of that size for the work we do. Most of our work is done out in the field."
Bowles said Quail Unlimited's new headquarters will be on the southeast corner of Potter Community Center's roughly 50-acre complex. The new building will be 4,000 square feet and will include a reception area and the receptionist's office, Bowles' office, a break room and mail room. The QU president said the buildings pitched roof could also be used for more storage and extra offices.
"We're not going to do anything that's not financially prudent and won't help us carry on our mission of supporting the habitat development and preservation it takes to sustain quail populations," he said. "One of our big components is to reach out and help people who own those lands. It might be helping people with those fire burns. We teach them to share their lands and to have the proper habitat and the thing is we do that all over the country."
Bowles said QU is excited about the prospects for its new home and is grateful to those who helped bring the idea to fruition.
"QU is humble and thankful that this relationship has been formed we look forward to the first of the year when we can officially call Albany home," he said.
Quail Unlimited will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2011 and its 25th annual Conservation Celebrity Event is set for Jan. 13-15 at various Albany locations. Last year's celebrity event netted $60,000 for the organization.
Ethan Fowler, special contributor to The Herald, assisted with this report.