Simpsonwood Property Could Become a County Park

David Haddow, the broker hired by the North Georgia Conference, said talks are ongoing with Gwinnett County and the National Parks Service to purchase the 227 acres.

Nearly 300 people attended the UPCCA-sponsored meeting to learn more on the sale of the Simpsonwood Retreat property.
Nearly 300 people attended the UPCCA-sponsored meeting to learn more on the sale of the Simpsonwood Retreat property.
It was standing room only at Christ the King Church Monday night.

Residents crowded into the Fellowship Hall eager to learn what was to become of the 227-acre Simpsonwood Conference Center.  

The 200 seats were quickly taken and some 100 more stood as David Haddow, the broker hired by the North Georgia Conference to market the property, explained the plans for the sale.

"There is a lot of mis-information floating around, and I'm hear to dispel those myths," said Haddow, "and hopefully convince you that we want what you want, and that's not just talk."

Haddow said he wanted to put to rest the perception that the North Georgia Conference was moving ahead with the sale and that the church was only interested in getting top dollar for the land.

"Our position from day one has been to preserve the property as green space." said Haddow. "We have not marketed it to developers."

Haddow said there are ongoing talks with Gwinnett County to purchase 125 acres of the property which had approached the North Georgia Conference about buying the land.

"The church did not want to go to court," said Haddow. "What triggered the court action was the county. The county wanted the court to clarify the church's position so it could purchase the land."

Discussions with Gwinnett County began in November 2011 according to Haddow which gave authorization to begin the acquisition. That's when the issue with the deed restrictions surfaced which required the church take the matter to court for a decision.

Haddow said they also been in discussions with the National Parks Service to purchase the remaining 102 acres but later said due to federal funding cutbacks, it would not pursue the land purchase.

"We managed to keep a lid on this for four years until it got out in the media," said Haddow.

The county has hired an appraiser to determine a value of the property, which should be complete sometime next month. The value will be determined not for a park but for development according to Haddow.  "The market is red hot right now. If we can't work it out with the county, we'll have to re-evaluate."

Also present at the meeting was Keith Cox, the Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services of the North Georgia Conference, who explained the reason the church was selling the property.

"The North Georgia Conference is $5.5 million in debt for the construction of the newest building which was complete in December 2001," said Cox.

The debt for the construction of the building coupled with operating losses were the cause he said. For the past seven or so years, its annual losses have been steadily mounting. In recent years the conference center has lost over $500,000 annually and expects that number to increase to $540,000 in 2014.

"We're not just going to give it away," said Cox. "But we are not looking to sell it for the highest price, but the best offer. Our goal is to preserve the entire property."

The meeting was sponsored by UPCCA, Scott Hilton, UPCCA president made the introductions and Jim Blum, was the moderator during the Q&A session.

Did you attend the meeting? Tell us what you thought?

Lauren Azoulai January 28, 2014 at 09:11 AM
While I appreciate the fact that property improvements requiring loans caused financial problems for Simpsonwood, let's remember that the property was a gift from Ludie Simpson that was entrusted to the UMC of No. GA. The institution and its current leaders and managers need to maintain and honor the sacred trust they formed as an organization with the donor. If they cannot afford it, they need to pass it on without payment to another non-profit that has the ability to steward that precious gift. Their nonprofit organization will not be the first that ended up with financial problems because of unintentionally overextending itself or because of bad investments. The improvements made on the property also provided them with offices and meeting space over the years, so there was a benefit. We heard that at least two groups - an order of Catholic nuns and the Presbyterian Church are interested, and perhaps others as well. Choose the one that can assume the stewardship of the gift and honor Miss Ludie's wishes. I will welcome them!
Robert J. Nebel January 28, 2014 at 11:02 AM
I hope that the organization will find success in selling to the county or any other entity that will be dedicated to preserving this precious patch of real estate.
ugagolfer January 28, 2014 at 09:28 PM
Hoping there will be multiple legal challenges to prevent and block a sale to a developer or group of developers. I am hearing that legal assistance will be available if needed. This land WILL be preserved. Please contact Charlotte Nash and of course, our own Lynette Howard, to find a way to turn this into a County or State Park if we cannot obtain Federal park status.
ugagolfer January 29, 2014 at 04:51 PM
What happens to the remaining acreage if only 125 acres becomes a County Park? Wait for it....DEVELOPMENT! Right politicians?! Let's band together to stop this using the legal system! One acre or all 127 acres should make no difference. Wonder which developers are already lining up to contribute to various political campaigns in the area?
Mary February 07, 2014 at 01:54 PM
Ms. Azoulai, Well said. Hearing about the 5 million dollar buildings the Methodist organization chose to build and use on the Simpsonwood property made me very curious to go have a look.


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