A new screenplay for Fort McPherson would have happier ending for Atlanta
By Maria Saporta
All is not lost – actually quite the opposite is true.
If the Tyler Perry-Fort McPherson deal really is falling apart, we have a wonderful “do-over” opportunity to get it right.
The 488-acre Fort McPherson property – a locked treasure chest overflowing with possibilities – can and should be the catalyst to the renaissance of the southern side of Atlanta.
As the economic bridge along between downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and bookended by MARTA, Fort McPherson can send off ripples of rebirth and redevelopment to communities that have been hungry for new investment for decades.
But if filmmaker Tyler Perry had been successful in acquiring 331 acres of the 488-acre now-closed Army base for $30 million (a deal of the century), the opportunity for economic growth in the surrounding communities likely would have been locked away for decades to come.
Although plans were never unveiled to the community (not a good sign), Perry said he wanted to turn his property into a movie studio campus (encompassing the prime pieces of land, buildings and historic structures on the base) – most likely enclosed with a fence – off limits to the general public – recreating a fort within a fort.
The community deserves better. Atlanta deserves better. Georgia deserves better.
Not surprisingly, secrecy continues to surround the status of talks between the McPherson Implementing Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) and Tyler Perry.
All sorts of speculation exists including:
* Perry is making new demands for control of the property – even on the land he wouldn’t own;
* the deal is taking longer than Perry wanted and he’s ready to start building on his land in Douglas County;
* a federal lawsuit that would be triggered once the land was sold – causing further delays at the very least;
* the possibility that Perry is over-extended financially because he’s been buying so much property; or
* that Perry floated the news that he’s walking away from the deal as a negotiating ploy to get the city and MILRA to give him what he wants.
But if the Tyler Perry deal is really dead, let’s not despair. It would be a blessing – not even in disguise.
For starters, MILRA could revive its agreement with Gov. Nathan Deal and the state of Georgia to move the Georgia Police Academy to the Army’s state-of-the-art communications command center that sits on 20 acres of land.
The state had offered MILRA nearly $10 million, and then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had talked the governor into withdrawing the state’s offer because Perry wanted that building as part of his deal.
If the Tyler deal fell apart, however, the governor let it be known he would be prepared to resubmit his offer.
If MILRA had nearly $10 million in the bank, it could make its first down payment to the U.S. Army to buy the base (during the Perry negotiations that cost was going to be a total of $26 million over as many as four or five years and the first down payment was less than half that amount).
MILRA likely would be able to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. Army to pay $8 million as a down payment and then allocate the rest for operations and base maintenance.
Once it had ownership of the base, MILRA actually could entertain proposals out in the open and in good faith without fear of back-room deals and possible litigation from spurned players.
We already know there’s a live proposal on the table from Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios for 80 acres to build movie and production studios on a campus that the owners have said would be accessible to the community.
There would be nothing stopping Tyler Perry from submitting a proposal for his own movie studio. That could then be compared to other proposals in the light of day – letting the best ideas bubble to the surface.
A developer or developers, a state agency or a public-private partnership could submit proposals for a bio-medical campus (a long-time desire of the Georgia Research Alliance).
A residential developer could propose to create a turn-key community along officers’ row and the historic buildings with some infill housing with retail. All the amenities that existed when there was a base –stores, a movie theater, a post officer, etc. – could be recreated for a new, thriving community rather than for a movie set.
Given the upswing in the real estate market, a multi-purpose developer might be even interested in overseeing the entire project – working in tandem with the community – to develop the 488 acres thoughtfully, piece by piece.
The upside potential for MILRA (be it the city, county or state) is far greater than the $30 million being offered by Perry.
Depending on how it is structured, the state, the city, the county and/or MILRA could create a Tax Allocation District or some other program to set aside dedicated funds that could pay for the annual maintenance costs for a massive green space on the property (that could be a viable alternative to Piedmont Park as a large gathering space for Atlanta).
A community fund also could support a host of other amenities and ideas that had been put together to present to Tyler Perry in an interest to create a new Fort McPherson partnership.
Initially, the community had believed Perry when he said over the summer that he would meet with them to exchange ideas, and when he assured them he would be a sensitive neighbor. But that was the last time any one from the surround area has seen or heard from Tyler Perry.
As someone observed, his lack of response to the community over the past six months was a telling sign of what kind of neighbor Tyler Perry would have been.
I know Mayor Reed has been vested in the Tyler Perry deal, and I sympathize with his desire to keep a successful filmmaker in the City of Atlanta.
I also understand why he would want one person to buy most of the property – by doing so he wouldn’t have to be bothered with a major project for the rest of his administration.
But I also hope our mayor does not want to shortchange the community and the city in the interest of expediency and simplicity.
In his heart of hearts, I believe Mayor Reed wants what’s best for the neighborhoods around Fort Mac. I’m sure he will understand that a strategic plan combined with the inclusive redevelopment of the base will positively impact Atlanta for decades to come.
What an opportunity we have today with Fort McPherson. We can get it right – and in the right way.