Shorter University sells its conference center for $1.2 million.
By J. Gerald Harris
NORMAN PARK – On March 25, 2021, the board of trustees of Shorter University voted to give President Don Dowless the privilege of selling the Georgia Baptist Conference Center at Norman Park by means of an auction.
On June 30, the property was sold for the University at a price of $1.2 million.
While the property had been appraised for considerably more than the money received through the auction, it is a reality that property is worth only what individuals are willing to pay for it. Dowless explained, ‘While this (the amount we received) was less than we wanted, we realized given the location of the property and the potential need a person may have, it would be a challenge. That said, we rejoice that it will be utilized for another purpose within the community.”
In March of 2016 it was announced that the Georgia Baptist Mission Board had gifted the property to Shorter University. In his email correspondence to the Trustees Dowless explained, “The gift from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board was very much appreciated, and it allowed us to balance our audit sheet at a time we needed it.”
Dowless offered an explanation on the profit/loss synopsis or layout based on actual cash received and expended since the property was donated to Shorter University. He explained, “To date, we have spent approximately $1,211,620 on the property, inclusive of repairs, taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc. Thus, we have a ‘break even’ scenario for which we are all thankful. God is good.”
The Conference Center property was originally the home of the Norman Institute founded in 1900 and sponsored by the Mell Association. It was not long until the financial stress of operating the Institute required the help of the Georgia Baptist Convention; and the school became the property of Georgia Baptists and renamed Norman College. The year following WW II the school began to flourish as the enrollment of veterans swelled the student population as well as the income.
However, on June 6, 1971 Norman College closed its doors and became the South Georgia Baptist Assembly. All the assets were converted into a full-functioning Center in Norman Park and hosted multiplied thousands of people for camps, conferences, retreats and family functions.
The Norman Park property served as a satellite campus of Brewton Parker College for a period of time until that arrangement ended in 2009. The Rome News-Tribune quoted Dowless, saying, “In this age of digital and online learning, we did not need (Norman Park) as a possible satellite location.”
The property located on U. S. Highway 319, nine miles northeast of Moultrie, was sold in five separate parcels by Dempsey Auction of Rome, GA. The property contained 32 acres of real estate including the Conference Building, Baker Chapel, Hope Chapel, Baker Auditorium, Brand Hall, Graham Gymnasium, Clark Hall, Fender Hall, Norman Hall, McCall Hall, two tennis courts, an Olympic style pool, a recreational field, an 8.7-acre RV park and all fixtures, furniture and equipment.
Dempsey Auction’s promotional brochure stated, “This auction offers the opportunity to own a portion of, or all of this historic property . . . The Norman Park campus had been a staple in this region since the early 1900s and literally tens of thousands of young people from all over the world have had the opportunity to visit, learn and enjoy this magnificent campus.”
Almost five years ago when the property was first given to Shorter by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board Ray Coleman, associational missionary for the Smyrna Baptist Association, wrote a commentary about the gift titled “Farewell to an old friend: memories built at Norman Park.” He remarked, “An old friend of mine is about to leave us. This friend has been in poor health for some time, essentially on life support. The immediate cause of his passing is slow deterioration due to lack of use by Georgia Baptists.”
Coleman continued his article by recalling enumerable personal and spiritual experiences afforded him during the years of his frequent visits to the Georgia Baptist Conference Center at Norman Park. He concluded his remarks by writing, “So, Norman, I’ll miss you, old friend. I guess if everybody else had been there as many times as I have, you’d have worn out by now. As long as my memories last, however, you’ll always have a warm place in my heart.”
After more than 120 years the Norman Park property is no longer in the possession of any Georgia Baptist entity, so the “goodbye” is final, but the memories last for thousands of us.