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Methodist Church votes to close Simpsonwood property

Officials with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church on Wednesday in Athens voted to close the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners because of high operating losses. (File Photo)

Officials with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church on Wednesday in Athens voted to close the Simpsonwood Retreat Center in Peachtree Corners because of high operating losses. (File Photo)

ATHENS — Financial losses ultimately out-weighed the love Methodist officials have for the Simpsonwood Retreat Center, and on Wednesday, the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to close the property in Peachtree Corners.

With a net operating loss of $156,784 in 2012, $141,254 in 2013 and $145,701 through April 30 of this year were too much to keep the property open, said Keith Cox, treasurer for the organization, before a gathering of 2,000 members at the Classic Center in Athens. In May, the property lost $33,000, and Cox added that, “Our cash situation has gotten much tighter in the last two weeks,” as operating costs are forecasted to be much more difficult in the next two months.

Cox also said that while the organization will still have debt service, maintenance and other costs, those figures would be more predictable as the Board of Trustees works with a broker to find an alternative use or buyer.

“It’s a very very delicate subject for all of us because of the love we have for this property,” Bishop Michael Watson said at the organization’s annual conference.

Last year, a judge ruled that the North Georgia Conference could market and sell the property 40 years after it was deeded as a gift by Ludie Simpson. Neighbors tried to step in, but in April, Magistrate Judge Mark Lewis ruled that neighbors had no standing in the private property case.

The conference’s attorney, Matt Reeves, has said the conference is in discussions to sell the property to Gwinnett County as a park.

Attempts to reach a Gwinnett County spokesperson were unsuccessful.

Conference spokeswoman Sybil Davidson said the high operating losses are being subsidized with ministry dollars.

If an offer would come in at a later date, Davidson said there could be a called session to discuss the matter.

“We’ve been inundated with interest, but have only talked to Gwinnett County,” Davidson said.

The property accounts for about two percent to three percent of the conference’s budget, and it’s not considered a “crisis decision,” Davidson said.

Church officials have discussed the issue since 2007, but in October the organization hired a commercial real estate broker, who was asked to determine options for the land.

The 200 acres have been a popular site for weddings, retreats and other events.