Brian Culberson, left, attempts a turn on his skateboard as J.D. Wood looks on in this Oct. 2008 file photo taken at the downtown Albany Skate Park at 135 College Drive. A local fraternity chapter has made a request to lease the property.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Businessman Lane Rosen read The Albany Herald article in disbelief, stewed about it for a while and decided he couldn't let it go.
So he placed the call.
"I had to tell you how shocked I was to read that ADICA (the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority) was considering leasing the skate park building to a fraternity for $5 a year," Rosen, a real estate developer and owner/manager of the downtown State Theatre, said Tuesday. "I tried twice to work with them to do something with that property, including offering to buy it, but they would not work with me.
"And now they're thinking about leasing it for $5 a year?"
Rosen's concerns surfaced after James Linton with the local Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity asked the ADICA board at its March 20 meeting to consider leasing the building on the property that houses the local skate park (at 135 College Drive) to the fraternity so that members could organize community outreach projects.
The ADICA board said it would consider Linton's request, and City Attorney Nathan Davis said he'd draw up a lease agreement if the board approves the request.
But Downtown Manager Aaron Blair, who also serves as president of ADICA, said Wednesday he can't imagine the development authority renting the facility to anyone for $5 a year.
"I'm not in favor of renting that property except at a price that would make sense for ADICA," Blair said. "We have had inquiries in the past, and the board established a rate of, I believe, $500 a month. I'll send a copy of that agreement to the gentleman (Linton) and see if he's interested. But I can't imagine that we'd rent that property for less."
Blair went on to say that he had no formal proposal from Rosen indicating the developer would buy the property.
"He may have made an offer verbally, but there is no written offer that I'm aware of," Blair said. "I'm certain ADICA would entertain any legitimate offer, and I know I'd take any such offer to the board for consideration if I had one."
Rosen, however, said he not only made a legitimate offer of $40,000 to buy the property, he assured ADICA board members he planned to turn it into a family adventure attraction that would bring people downtown.
"I first approached ADICA about four years ago, before Aaron Blair got here, about leasing that property," Rosen said. "I spent a considerable amount of time researching and drawing up plans to turn it into 'Adventure Albany,' which was going to include the skate park, zip lines, a nature trail and canoe and rafting.
"At the 11th hour, they called me and told me to pick up the proposal that Nathan Davis had drawn up. I looked at the proposal, saw that they had doubled the monthly rent agreement (from $100 to $200), had written a number of potential penalties into the agreement and had arbitrarily changed the wording to say that ADICA would get a percentage of the gross receipts from the park. We had clearly talked about a percentage of the net receipts."
Rosen said he rejected the agreement.
"I didn't feel they were dealing in good faith with me," he said.
Davis said Wednesday Rosen's recollection of negotiations for the lease agreement were not accurate.
"There were no 11th-hour changes," the city attorney said. "Mr. Rosen was dealt with fairly and professionally. There was never any bad faith in the agreement we drew up. We kept him informed at all times, and we responded promptly to all his inquiries.
"I remember clearly that we sent him a proposal, and he never even responded to it. We assumed that he'd made a business decision to utilize his assets elsewhere."
Rosen said a couple of years later, after Blair had been hired as downtown manager, Blair contacted him to discuss his past interest in the skate park. Rosen said he offered to buy the property.
"I tried to get an appraisal on the property, and no one could come up with a number that sounded fair," the businessman said. "No one could find a tax valuation on the property. I didn't want to go through putting together another complicated rental deal, so I offered to buy the property outright. I offered $40,000. I told them it was worth 8,000 years of what they were getting in rent at the time ($5 a year).
"I made the offer at an ADICA meeting, and after things had moved forward a few minutes, Nathan (Davis) said they might need to go through a sealed bid process before selling the property. I didn't think that was very fair, since I'd already made my offer with the media present. In any case, I did not hear anything else from them or about the skate park until I read the story about someone wanting to lease it for $5."
Rosen said he decided to speak out despite fear that doing so could impact his business.
"I don't know if this is personal, but it's hard not to take it personally," he said. "I didn't want to do this story, but I just couldn't keep quiet. I put my business at risk, but I feel as a citizen of Albany I have to speak out."
Blair, meanwhile, said he'd be more than willing to reach out to Rosen again.
"If he's willing to make a written offer, I see no reason why the (ADICA) board wouldn't consider it," the downtown manager said.