By Maria Saporta and Dave Williams
Shortly after going on a tour of Fort McPherson with former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, movie and entertainment mogul Tyler Perry became a first-time contributor to Gov. Nathan Deal.
At about the same time, the governor was helping pave the way for a tentative development deal, unveiled in mid-June, for Tyler Perry Studios to acquire more than 300 acres of Fort McPherson for just more than $30 million.
On May 1, Perry personally made a $6,300 contribution to Deal designated for the May 20 Republican gubernatorial primary — the maximum donation permissible under state law — according to campaign finance disclosures.
On the same day, Tyler Perry Studios made two donations to Deal’s re-election campaign — one for $6,300 designated for the primary and another for $100 designated for the general election this fall.
From the information available in the ethics commission’s database, it appears this was the first time Perry has donated to a gubernatorial campaign. He has made donations to Reed’s mayoral campaigns.
While there is nothing illegal about Perry’s contributions, they raised eyebrows among opponents of Perry’s plan.
“I just find it interesting,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, whose district includes Fort McPherson. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor got involved because he saw the economic potential of Perry’s plan to relocate his entire movie production operation to Fort McPherson and build up to 16 studios on the property.
“We’re always interested in private-sector job creation, and that’s what we had here,” Robinson wrote in an email.
The governor’s role in facilitating Perry’s project stems from Perry’s tour of the former Army base with Reed. At the time, Perry was getting ready to announce he was moving his residence and movie and television operation to Douglas County.
But things changed once Perry got a look at Fort McPherson’s rolling hills, historic buildings and convenient location along a MARTA rail line midway between downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
He expressed interest in buying a large portion of the 488-acre property, including the Army Reserve Building, a communications command center with cutting-edge technology.
However, there was a wrinkle in the plan. The state of Georgia had already put in a bid of $10 million to buy that building along with about 20 acres so it could relocate its police academy on the property.
Reed, taking advantage of his friendly relationship with Deal, contacted the governor and convinced him to withdraw the state’s offer so the mayor could help put together the movie studio deal.
“Gov. Deal hit the pause button on the state’s interest when he learned through Mayor Reed that Tyler Perry was interested in that location,” Robinson wrote. “We wanted to see if it could work out.”
Reed recounted the story at a June board meeting of the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA), the agency put in charge of redeveloping the property after the Pentagon closed the base in 2005.
“He thanked the governor for deferring to this deal,” said Chandra Houston, an attorney and business owner who is on the executive committee of MILRA, remembering Reed’s presentation.
MILRA liked what it saw from Perry. The authority’s board voted 8-1 on Aug. 8 to approve the tentative deal.
But opponents say Perry’s plan would render moot a previously approved reuse plan for Fort McPherson that called for a mixed-use development, including a research park.
Fort questioned the relatively low price of the land Perry intends to buy. The tentative price of $90,909 per acre is far less than developers paid for other public properties during the last several years, including the former City Hall East and the former GM plant in Doraville.
Dave Williams writes for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.