Deed restrictions that once hindered the redevelopment of the old Claflin school building on Fifth Avenue no longer exist, and developers are now free to turn the property into apartments with an educational center.
That was the update presented to Columbus Council Tuesday by City Manager Isaiah Hugley and developers of the project. Councilors then approved a request for Friends of Historic Claflin, Inc., a nonprofit group formed to save the building, to sub-lease the property to a new entity called Claflin School Preservation, L.P.
The new group is a sole-purpose holding company consisting of FHC and Oracle Consulting Services, LLC, a company planning to convert the school into about 44 units of affordable housing, with an area set-aside for educational programs and to display the school’s history.
Developers said the sub-lease is necessary to allow Oracle to obtain state historic tax credits through the Georgia Department of Revenue. The company already has applied for, and has been awarded, millions of dollars in low-income housing tax credits through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, according to the city and developers.
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“The City will not incur any expenses associated with the redevelopment of Claflin School,” according to information from the city. “Claflin School Preservation, L.P. will be responsible for all costs associated with the construction and operations of this facility.”
Council approved the request with a 9-1 vote. Councilor Glenn Davis said he supported the project but needed more time to review the contract, so he abstained.
Thompson Gooding, Oracle vice president of development services, spoke on behalf of the company. He said the units will be rented to households making no more than 60 percent of the area median income.
The Rev. Richard Jessie, FHC’s executive director of restoration, also attended the meeting. Later in an interview, Jessie said Congressman Sanford Bishop helped the organization lift federal restrictions on the property, which paved the way for it to be used for purposes other than education.
Councilor Skip Henderson said he liked the project, because it allows the city to eliminate a blighted area, while at the same time preserving a major historic structure and providing quality low-income housing.
“I remember this whole thing happened because we came down to the 11th hour and Council decided, “Let’s take a shot and see if you guys could get financing,’” he said. “And Mr. Jessie and Friends of Historic Claflin really had a circuitous route to get to where we are, and I applaud them for sticking to it.”
Claflin sits on the site of the first school built for black children in Columbus. The original structure was built by the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War. It later burned down and was replaced by two buildings now sitting on the site.
The property originally was deeded to the city of Columbus school system in 1880 to be used solely for educational purposes. The district handed it over to the city in 2013, after it became surplus property.
Two years ago, city officials could not find developers interested in restoring the property. They said ownership of the property would likely revert to the federal government. Columbus Council gave former students six months to develop a plan to save the building and FHC was formed.
According to the lease agreement with the city, FHC must pay the city $1 per year for 10 years, with options for five-year extensions.
Prior to voting, Councilor Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson asked City Manager Isaiah Hugley how the deal would benefit the city.
“They’re taking a blighted property that we did not want and we tried to give back to government,” Hugley said. “We gave it to (FHC) and they struggled with it for a couple of years, and then the developer came along with an idea. And that idea took getting the deed restrictions removed, and the developers want to construct 44, plus or minus, affordable housing units, where there will be property tax paid to the city.”