By David Pendered
The sale of most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry is “imminent,” and Perry met with area residents May 4 to discuss their concerns for how his future complex will relate to the neighborhood.
Atlanta Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, a member of the state authority overseeing the sale of the fort who chairs the Community Engagement Subcommittee, said Perry was a willing participant in the meeting.
“He was very genuine, and you can read in the minutes that he was very genuine and very engaged with listening to the committee,” Sheperd said. “The [committee] painted a picture with a presentation. They began to have a dialogue in a very candid way.
“Mr. Perry and his lawyers were writing down notes of everything we were discussing, and the history of the neighborhood, and we used the word ‘redlining,’ and he asked, ‘What does that mean?’
“We told him and he said, ‘Oh, I know about that but didn’t know it has a name,” Sheperd said.
Redlining is a term used to describe the illegal practice by lenders of drawing borders around the geographical areas where they will not provide loans. Lenders typically used red ink, hence the name, redlining.
“He made commitments in terms of lighting and a lot of other things,” Sheperd said. “There was not a dialogue of what would happen, but he made commitments.”
Committee members invited Perry to join the committee or to send a representative. Sheperd said Perry said he would find the appropriate person in his organization to meet with the committee, Sheperd said.
Tom Weyandt, a retired member of Mayor Kasim Reed’s cabinet who serves on the McPherson Implementing Redevelopment Authority, supported Sheperd’s description and analysis of the meeting with Perry.
“The committee presentation was targeted; it was effective; it hit the right note with what the committee was thinking about,” Weyandt said. “I was impressed that Mr. Perry listened. I won’t say there was an agreement, but we are beginning a process and there’s commitment to that process.”
Felker Ward, who chairs the authority, observed that MILRA had delivered on its statement that Perry would meet with area residents before the sale is completed.
“You recall, some months ago, we indicated Mr. Perry would meet with the community,” Ward said. “This is in keeping with that commitment he made. We appreciate it very much.”
In other action, the authority voted to hire a caretaker for a brief period after the authority purchases the fort from the Army. For up to six months and at a total cost of $3.5 million, the authority will pay a caretaker to maintain the land, buildings, pay utility bills, and provide security. The company currently maintains the property.
Once the authority sells a portion of the fort to Perry, and Perry becomes responsible for maintenance and security of his lion’s share of the property, the authority intends to divide the caretaker duties into portions small enough for local companies to bid on the various pieces, Ward said.
“We recognize it is very important that this contract be broken into smaller pieces, so firms that maybe could not provide this level of service could bid on it,” Ward said. “That is the goal.”
Brian Hooker, MILRA’s executive director, provided an update of the sale of the property.
“The closing is imminent,” Hooker said, going on to describe expectations that the studios Perry is to build will spin off additional retail shops that will benefit the neighborhood.
“Tyler Perry is committed to seeing improvements outside fence,” Hooker said. “He’ll bring businesses to the community. Hardware. Home goods. Hotel. Possibly a grocery store.
“Folks have asked how can a studio have positive impact,” Hooker said, noting Perry intends to leave up the security fencing. “Tyler Perry’s intention here is to create, outside of his walls, these retail and hotel opportunities that will support his studio. He is a key catalyst.”
The board tentatively scheduled its next meeting for June 17. That date may be related to the actual transfer of property from the Army to the authority, and/or from the authority to Perry.