Updated: Sep 19
Company has requested not to be named at this stage of the negotiations, but is a "serious" prospective buyer, according to Stephens County officials.
Stephens County Commission Chair Dennis Bell and County Administrator Phyllis Ayers met yesterday, Sept. 17, with executives of an as-yet unnamed company that is putting serious consideration into purchasing the Georgia Baptist Conference Center.
“Most of our discussion was a lot about the history of what Georgia Baptist is to this community,” Ayers told ConnectLocal shortly following the group’s tour of the Center. “They are here doing their due diligence, and we were part of that due diligence this morning,” she explained, saying that the meeting included questions from company officials regarding the dam, the road, and the status of Georgia Baptist’s request for the county to abandon the road. “We explained how we got to where we are with the road, and that it is still in the process of being abandoned,” she said, adding that she had advised the company representatives that the abandonment process had been put on hold due to COVID and the suspension of in-person Board of Commissioner meetings. “We want to do that (public hearing) in person,” she said.
Representatives of the company, who have requested that the company’s name be withheld during this stage of possible negotiations, also wanted to learn about the community, its governance, and the history of the Georgia Baptist Conference Center and its relationship to the community. The company CEO/COO, as well as a company board member and two other executives, met with Bell, Ayers, Georgia Baptist Conference Center Director Bill Wheeler, and a representative from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board/Georgia Baptist Conference Executive Committee, which is the official owner of the center and the land on which is is located, including the dam.
On Feb. 13, ConnectLocal published an article regarding the work – both required repairs and voluntary improvements – that the Georgia Baptist Mission Board was proposing to undertake, and which would require the indefinite closure of Lake Louse Road.
On April 22, ConnectLocal reported that the Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention had asked Stephens County officials to being the formal process to officially abandon the road.
On Sept. 16, the Georgia Baptist Conference, in a post on the GBC’s publication, The Christian Index, announced their intent to sell the conference center.
“A review of audits from the last 20 years show the Georgia Baptist Conference Center in Toccoa operating at a loss over that time and left no choice but to place it for sale,” stated the article. “Georgia Baptist Chief Operations Officer David Melber delivered the news to Executive Committee members during their meeting Sept. 15 at Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins.”
The audits revealed that from 2000-19, the conference center reported an average annual net loss of $543,000, or $10.86 million, during that span. An inspection earlier this year indicated the need for $8.31 million in deferred maintenance.
“The hotel and grounds (were) sold to the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1963 for $235,000, with LeTourneau contributing $10,000 to the purchase price,” the GBC article stated.
Ayes said that the company officials who toured the property on Thursday gave no indication of their plans regarding the road, if the purchase were completed.
“They didn’t give any indication (of specific plans) or anything of that caliber, they were just looking at everything possible,” Ayers said, adding that the officials had requested to look at the engineering reports commissioned by both GBC and the county, and were in the “fact finding” phase. “They are seeing if there are any less costly routes; I think that is what I gleaned from it more than anything,” Ayers said.
According to figures supplied to ConnectLocal in April, the county’s portion of the cost to rebuild the road following completion of the planned repair and upgrades on the dam would have been $3 million. No figures were available on the entire cost of the project.
Although the company has chosen to remain unidentified at this stage, Ayers said the purchase, if completed, would lead to a use “very similar to what goes on there now.”