HUD’s approval of Fort McPherson reuse plan offers officials good news to discuss

By David Pendered

A federal department has approved a redevelopment plan for Fort McPherson, providing an opportunity for Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Kasim Reed to predict success for the fort’s conversion to civilian use.

“While the purposes of this unique property will change from military to civilian, one thing won’t: Its value as a tremendous asset for economic development in the state,” Deal said in a statement released Thursday. “We believe the size of the site and its proximity to transportation – a major airport, interstates and MARTA – lends itself to a wide variety of uses and makes it very attractive to potential investors.”

Atlanta’s mayor said: “Our plans call for the Fort McPherson site to become a national model for sustainable urbanism. All developers interested in participating in this opportunity must commit to design principles that bring long-term environmental, economic and social sustainability to the development and surrounding communities.”

Some residents in surrounding communities will be heartened by the mayor’s comments. They have complained for months about the redevelopment plan that was created in December 2010 and approved last week by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

These residents have taken their concerns to Atlanta City Councilmembers Joyce Sheperd and Cleta Winslow, who for years have been working on the closure of the base and its conversion to the city’s jurisdiction.

The U.S. Army is to vacate the property Sept. 15. Fort McPherson is among several military institutions closed over the past decade to cut costs or consolidate programs.

As of now, the Army has not signed off on the fort’s reuse plan. The city is in the process of rezoning the property – a process the two councilmembers said will reflect concerns brought forward by nearby residents.

Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who serves on the state authority overseeing the conversion of Fort McPherson, said Thursday that he intends for residents of the communities surrounding the fort to benefit from its redevelopment.

“We need to ensure that the nearby communities benefit from the economic development,” Fort said. “I have advocated, and continue to advocate, for planning to create jobs and provide for job training.”

One part of the reuse plan is for the property to be developed into a bio-sciences research center. City officials joined their counterparts from around metro Atlanta in attending a national meeting of industry leaders a few months ago in hopes of generating some leads.

The state’s chief development official joined the governor and mayor in heralding the fort’s redevelopment potential, especially the bio-science research component.

“There are a lot of growing life sciences companies for whom this location is prefect, and we intend to make sure they know about the incredible opportunities it presents,” Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said in a statement.

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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